John Wick: Chapter 4

Verdict: A tragically clumsy ending to one of cinema's greatest action franchises

  • Keanu Reeves
  • March 23rd 2023

A tragically clumsy ending to one of cinema’s greatest action franchises

John Wick 4 lives in a guilded cage built by the rest of the franchise, forever groping for new ideas while trying to work as a love letter to the previous movies. It’s hard to say it succeeds on either front.

The Wick brand of gun-fu has become boring.

There’s only so much you can do with judo and firearms. There’s only so many ways to throw, pin and shoot opponents before choreography gets recycled.

John Wick 4 recycles a lot of choreography. There’s not much here that we haven’t seen in John Wick 1 or 2. 3, the best in the franchise, actually had very little gun-fu, instead moving wisely towards blades where the more novel choreography lies.

When 3 did use guns, it had an original hook, combat with a dog or heavily armoured guards (a gimmick which 4 abuses horribly).

I should *never* be bored when John gets a gun. Keanu isn’t even that slick with them, but the nunchuk fight is one of the better sequences purely because it’s a weapon we haven’t seen John use before.

John Wick 4 makes the bizarre choice to front-load goons with heavy armour, leading to immensely annoying over-choreography.

It takes an eternity just to kill a single guard. John will unload an entire clip into these guys and barely stagger them. That’s a fun angle for one fight in 3, but it loses its charm fast when John fights these tanks across 4 combined sequences.

It’s a relief just to see men that die from a shot to the chest.

This is part of a broader issue with armoured suits. John himself is virtually invincible.

It used to mean something when he fell 10 stories. Now he just shrugs it off. 1 and 2 were relatively grounded in this respect, John was ultimately flesh and bone, and he could be broken.

In 4 he bounces off everything like Stretch Armstrong. 3 gracefully threaded the needle between believability and spectacle but 4 forever lurches towards the latter. Bigger stunts, bigger guards, more guards, more armour. It all has severe diminishing returns.

This is compounded by near fetishistic references to the rest of the franchise.

Why does Caine have a random pencil on him? It’s like John Wick 2!!

Remember the on-beat club fight from John Wick 1? Wasn’t that cool? Here’s another club fight. By the way, it’s way shorter and not on beat.

Here’s that really cool song from 1. Here’s that really cool song from 2. Can you remember a single interesting song in 4?

These call-backs are unflattering. Invoking franchise highlights only demonstrates how 4 is a shallow imitation of its predecessors.

That’s just the action. It’s easy to forget, but most of John Wick 4 is actually dialogue.

JW4 has no concept of pacing. Save for the mediocre club fight, there’s almost no action in the second act at all.

It essentially sandwiches its story between two enormous run-on fight sequences. It’s a bad way to pace an action movie, and made worse because the story-telling is botched and derivative.

4 still has no way to meaningfully challenge John’s philosophy beyond “You enjoy the killing!!”

Every single franchise villain parrots the same shit (except the villain of 3) and there’s absolutely nothing that sets the Marquis in 4 apart from Riccardo Scarmacio in 2.

You could say “No one watches John Wick for that!” I beg to differ.

You spent hours watching John Wick 4‘s trite narrative.

You watch whether you like it or not.

In fact, a good 50% of the run time is dedicated to high table politics.

That’s never been the main appeal of John Wick, but they were fun for what they were. A little world building to break up the carnage.

If 4 has nothing new to offer John’s character or world then why in hell is it so long? 4 is in dire need of editing. Story editing yes, but it’s so bloated I’d wager a fan could go in and slice out great swathes for a superior experience.

New characters are a total mixed bag. The fat dude with the playing cards is atrociously annoying. Chad you need to get this character out of my face immediately.

Rina Sawayama is straining to prove she’s a legitimate actor. Her design is cool but her fights are laborious and her character is set up for a revenge that never comes.

Tracker is just a replacement for Halle Berry’s character, no? I assume Halle had scheduling conflicts. The guy even fights with a dog. A good performance but an ultimately pointless addition.

Donnie Yen is the best part of the package. He fights convincingly like a blind man, he’s doing a fun disaffected Spike Spiegel thing, and he’s clearly, clearly the most skilled fighter there. It all makes for some very creative choreography. However on the level of motivation his character makes absolutely no sense.

I can’t go any further without spoilers, but this is all to say, John Wick 4 is perhaps arrogant, the point at which a film starts to buckle under director ego.

It feels fundamentally out of touch with what it’s fans want, yet presents its derivative offerings with perverse enthusiasm. What a sad and confusing ending to such a special franchise.

*Spoilers to follow*

So Caine. He’s forced to kill John.

He pursues John with great reluctance.

He fights John’s ninja friend Shimazu because he wants to know where John’s hiding?

Why would he assume Shimazu knows? Why would he kill Shimazu? Why would he not just walk away? They’re friends.

It’s not framed as a preventable tragedy or an accident. It’s quite malicious.

It seems Caine will do anything to protect his undeveloped daughter. But then he goes to ludicrously extreme efforts to protect John? These motives are completely at odds with each other.

The final showdown between John and Caine, the greatest battle in the franchise, the final climax, a fight full of regret, passion, and anguish, two decaying titans, two of the greatest action stars, east and west together, tearing each other to pieces, never actually happens.

Instead we get a bizarre pistols at dawn scene in which the Marquis is beaten on technicality. A franchise known for close quarters gun fu ends with Donnie Yen, a master of martial arts, standing 20 feet away from Keanu and firing antique pistols. Why?

It all culminates in quite a poignant ending.

John, bleeding to death, lies on the steps of a cathedral, thinks of his wife, and realises the violence will never bring her back.

It’s very tragic. It’s also completely hypocritical.

Every action sequence is purely rule of cool. It’s impossible to walk away thinking anything other than shooting 8 guys in 6 seconds is very cool.

Trying to moralise everything in the 11th hour feels completely delusional.

2021’s Nobody had the right idea, suspending ethics for a protagonist who simply loves killing.

John asking for a grave that says “Loving Husband” feels rather like Adolph Hitler asking for a tombstone that says “Great artist!”

Can you be remembered as a loving husband if you spent your final days performing emphatic genocide?

Despite everything, there’s still a few sequences I absolutely love.

The overhead fight is one of the best in the franchise and worth the price of admission alone.

It’s a sprawling technical feat and the perfect way to show off that nasty flame shotgun, with its gigantic spread and power to penetrate walls.

The swirling Arc de Triomphe fight is equally great. Absurd yes, but played with all kinds of fun spatial and timing trickery that sells the brutal vehicular collisions.

There’s things to like in John Wick 4, but it feels rather like digging diamonds out of porridge. John Wick should not be porridge.