“John Wick: Chapter 4” is way cool, and way too damned long.
It is the epic and epic-length installment in a franchise that’s served up “the same, only more of it” with each fresh outing, a lurid, violent, over-armed, over-designed thriller with video-game brawls and comic book compositions.
The script? Aside from the pithy aphorisms and fortune cookie profundities, it really isn’t much. But stuntman turned “John Wick” director Chad Stahelski, production designer Kevin Kavanaugh and cinematographer Dan Lautsen serve up standard-setting set pieces and homages, battle royales in grand spaces that had me going, “Wait, how the HELL did they get permission to film THERE?”
I’m not going to spoil them by listing them. But if you’ve been Paris and its environs, you will be gobsmacked at all the places we and John Wick go.
It begins in “Lawrence of Arabia” and climaxes with “The Warriors,” with a lot of John Woo and Walter Hill in the middle acts. Sure, they overreach. The “Lawrence” homage is pointless aside from the matched locations, simply another way to set up the last “kill John Wick” feeding frenzy. And “The Warriors” finale is more a ripoff than an homage.
Top tip? If you’re radio reference to “The Warriors” in Paris, go to the trouble of finding a French cover of “Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide.”
“Chapter 4” is packed with fan-friendly “fan service” casting. We’ve got Ian McShane, Lance Reddick and Laurence Fishburne back for an Encore with Keanu. Hiroyuki Sanada of “Sunshine,” “Westworld” and Keanu’s “47 Ronin” runs the Osaka “Continental Hotel” for hitmen and hitwomen. Walter Hill alumnus Clancy Brown is a high priest of the secret society of hired killers. B-movie martial arts star Scott Adkins shows up as an obese, gold-toothed Russian mobster, and just kills it in his best role in ages.
And the great Donnie Yen strolls on set in sunglasses, another “blind swordsman” character that pretty much steals the movie, exactly the way he stole “Rogue One.”
Revel in their presence, enjoy the even more over-the-top fights and the grandeur of the locations and set-pieces. Try not to notice how repetitive it all is, from the start, as each action beat strives to outdo all that have come before.
The continuing story — assassin’s guild outcast John Wick (Keanu Reeves) takes his revenge tour, on horseback, to Jordan. He crosses a line there, and all of a sudden everything in his world is attacked in a new round of tit for rat-a-tat-tats.
His favorite hotel and hotelier are threatened and the price on his head spikes as he seeks relief, revenge and resolution in the assassin’s dens and over-designed nightclubs of Berlin, the expansive Continental Hotel Osaka and its bamboo Zen gardens, and the historic sights of Paris.
John Wick is pursued by the highborn Marquis, given an aristocratic venom by Pennywise himself, Bill Skarsgård. “The High Table” has empowered this inbred creep with the authority to destroy Wickworld and John Wick in it. No pardons, no hope for pardon or redemption.
“Second chances are the refuge of men who fail.”
The Henchman Who Will Not Die (Marko Zaror) is added to the ranks of The Best Who Faced John Wick. And of all those hitfolk out to cash in his contract, the most persistent is the Man with a Dog, “Mr. Nobody,” aka a “Tracker” (Shamier Anderson).
“I’m going…to kill them all,” Wick vows.
“Not even you can kill everyone.”
We’ll see about that. His foe sees him as “but a ghost in search of a graveyard.”
The creed of the hitmen becomes the motto of this sequel’s production.
“How you do anything is how you do everything.”
Attention to detail is paramount, from fights and car chases to every pristine setting, held in long shot to be savored before the close-ups show us our heroes and our villains at their most righteous and/or venomous, throwing down and drawing blood.
The stunts and fight choreography are over-the-top, with characters surviving so much mayhem that it’s hard not to shout “Oh come ON” at the screen.
The lavish design spares no expense as they slash through a samurai museum, create Pandemonium at the (Berlin) Disco, stage a shoot-out/punch-out for the ages battling from room to room in an old office building, viewed in a long overhead-shot take, turn the Arch de Triomphe into the 12th Traffic Circle of Hell and make the steps up Montmartre run red with the blood of murderers.
The body count is staggering.
There are a lot of moments in which Reeves, never the most natural of screen performers, reminds us of that. He’s gone Eastwood meets Johnny Depp — the ever-unkempt long hair and stubble, reducing his lines to the barest minimum.
Still, you can’t avoid the awe that his mastery of fight choreography inspires. He’s really good at this stuff, and so convincing I was wondering how much stunt-doubling and digital tricker went on, and how many takes it must have required to pull off an epic bit of business drifting a vintage Dodge Challenger around an army of hired-killers, literally tearing the doors off the sucker.
But I found the repetition all a bit much, with literally dozens of shots where Reeves remembers to pull his (“Kevlar”) suit jacket up over his face to avoid the hailstorm of ordinance hurled his way. That just adds to the Energizer Bunny nature of the character and the Bugs Bunny Physics of it all.
As the picture drifts through its middle acts, the thought occurs that a little less movie might have made a much punchier, pithier and more satisfying film.
If you want to pass it off as a final bow (Maybe?), then the “RRR” length and Netflix editing are understandable. Letting the fans savor McShane and Fishburne, Adkins, Sanada, Reddick, Yen and Reeves in close up, each getting plenty of “moments,” has its value.
And as the wretched excess has been the point of “John Wick” all along, what better place than a city of palaces, museums and opera houses and a revered mountain-top chapel, sacred and celebrated spaces for an action hero to take his curtain call?
Rating: R, violence
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Scott Adkins, Riya Sawayama, Natalia Tena, Lance Reddick, Hiroyuki Sanada, Bill Skarsgård, Ian McShane, and Donnie Yen
Credits: Directed by Chad Stahelski, scripted by Shay Hatten, Michael Finch and Derek Kolstad. A release.
Running time: 2:49
I dont think Ive ever aeen Clancy Browm in a Walter Hill film.