Movie Curiosities — John Wick: Chapter 4
This is the end of the John Wick series.
To be clear, I don’t mean this to be the end of the John Wick franchise. The origins of The Continental will soon be portrayed in a limited series (with Mel Gibson in a starring role, cough cough), currently in production for a release on Peacock at some undisclosed future date. We’ve also got The Ballerina, an upcoming spinoff movie with confirmed reprise appearances from Anjelica Huston, Ian McShane, the late Lance Reddick, and Keanu Reeves himself, all centered around Ana de Armas in a hard-earned starring action role.
The world of The Continental has grown far beyond John Wick. And it will have to keep on growing without him, because John Wick: Chapter 4 makes it indubitably clear that there will be no Chapter 5. I won’t go into any more details than I have to, but I personally feel that this is important context regarding this movie and its place in the greater picture.
I’m seriously at a loss for why the movie wasn’t promoted as such. Typically, the final entry for a long-running series is heavily featured as a selling point. It certainly helps to manage expectations regarding the movie we’re in for.
This latest chapter opens some unspecified time after Chapter 3. Word has gotten out that John Wick is still alive, so now the High Table is redoubling their efforts at exterminating Wick for all the trouble he’s caused them. And by “redoubling their efforts,” I mean they’re done asking politely. (To repeat, the High Table’s methods in Parabellum was them asking politely.)
The High Table has entrusted their full power and authority to the Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgaard), in return for the guaranteed certainty that he’ll finally be the one to kill Wick. But the Marquis isn’t content to stop there — he wants to destroy the very memory of John Wick. He wants to make John Wick into an example of what happens to anyone who defies the High Table. So it is that the Marquis goes full-on scorched earth, laying waste to everyone who’s ever been close to Wick and anywhere he’s ever sought refuge.
So it is that many of the Continental hotels — those places most sacred to the underworld of the franchise lore, where the High Table rules are most stringently enforced — are destroyed on the Marquis’ orders. The Marquis also deploys an old associate of Wick’s (Caine, played by Donnie Yen), extorting him out of retirement by threatening his daughter. I should also mention Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson), a tracker employed by the Marquis to find and kill Wick, but only after the Marquis brutally maims Nobody for showing the audacity to haggle over the bounty.
Time and again, the Marquis is shown to be a tyrannical hypocrite. He claims to be acting in the interest of enforcing rules and consequences, demanding only the utmost unwavering loyalty to himself and the High Table, but he consistently blows up every long-standing rule in the franchise lore and acts as if he’s above consequences. At one point, the Marquis even outright admits that the cruelty isn’t about punishment, the cruelty is about commanding obedience through fear.
Trouble is, it’s a recurring theme of the franchise that violence only begets more violence. We can never forget that this whole mess started because some entitled idiot went looking for a fight and killed the wrong guy’s dog. A senseless incident that spiraled out of control into an international massacre because nobody involved had the good sense to back down. This whole franchise would’ve been over a lot sooner — and a lot more people would still be alive — if somebody realized that the best (indeed, maybe the only) way to get rid of John Wick is to leave him the fuck alone!
But no, John Wick has to keep on killing people before they kill him in turn. More importantly, this means the High Table (by way of their chosen emissary, the Marquis) trying to take John Wick out of the picture by alienating every cutthroat in this whole criminal underworld. Fear will only go so far when loyalty and respect only go one way. There’s no motivation to follow the rules when the rules keep changing. Put simply, the Marquis is putting himself in a trap of his own making, and he’s too short-sighted by his pride, too ambitious beyond his capability, to see it.
Sadly, nobody ever comes out and asks how the Marquis expects all this to end. Even in the hypothetical best case scenario, Wick may be in the ground, but hundreds of hitmen are still dead and the High Table has lost significant face under his watch. Instead, a great deal more attention is given to the question of how Wick expects all this will end. Sure, he went back to a normal life once, but is there any hope he could settle down and live in peace a second time? After all this shit over the past few movies?
Through the past couple movies, there’s been an ongoing question as to what John Wick still has to live for. Why does he continue to fight, and why won’t he just fucking die already? This movie finally makes a few answers clear. For one thing, fuck the High Table. It’s become a system too corrupt to be followed, and as long as they’re trying to kill Wick just for being a pawn in their system, he’s gonna try and kill them right back. For another thing, anyone dear to him who’s still alive is part of that system, so staying around to defend them is reason enough. And of course there’s his late wife to consider — if he’s gone, who’s left to remember her?
While all of this makes for a marvelous capstone to the John Wick saga, there’s no denying that the 170-minute runtime is excessive. And I’m not talking about the action sequences. Of course the fight sequences are overlong, elaborately staged, beautifully shot, and built on innovative premises — that’s why we’re here. That’s what we came to see. This is more of the stuff that set a new gold standard for action in Hollywood, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to complain about getting so much of it.
No, it’s the stuff in between the action set pieces that could’ve been tighter. For instance, that five-card draw game with a German mobster (an unrecognizable Scott Adkins) was drawn-out and totally useless. There’s a long extended sequence in which Winston passes through a hallway of extravagant artwork about warfare and rebellion — the same point could’ve been made in half the time. Time and again, we get so many overlong scenes made to draw out the tension and let the drama build, even though we all know already how the scene is going to end and it’s a freaking 170-minute movie so GET ON WITH IT.
I could also point to a few extraneous characters, but I have a hard time arguing that they should’ve been cut when they’re so goddamn awesome. I’ll give Clancy Brown a pass (here playing a high-ranking High Table official) because it’s Clancy Fucking Brown and his innate charisma elevates the proceedings like nothing else could. Hiroyuki Sanada is a similar case in point, because Sanada is a certified GOAT and cutting him from any action film would be sheer madness. We’ve also got Rina Sawayama on hand for her acting debut (after making her name as a model, figure skater, and musician), making a strong case for herself as an action franchise anchor. Maybe not on par with Ana de Armas yet, but I’d be delighted to see what they could do onscreen together.
My feelings about Nobody are considerably more mixed. Yes, Shamier Anderson is a charismatic performer and the character is fun to watch. Yes, it’s always great when a film in this franchise finds a new excuse to bring in a dog. But I have a hard time giving the character a pass when he doesn’t really do anything that isn’t already done and done better by Donnie Yen’s character.
Caine has more compelling pathos due to his established history with Wick. While Nobody may have his dog, Caine’s blindness is at least as entertaining a gimmick. Most importantly, while both characters demonstrate how the Marquis and the High Table are screwing themselves over in the long term by screwing over their people in the short term, Caine sells the theme far more effectively.
And of course Yen is a bona fide badass playing an elder statesman of the cutthroat trade, that goes without saying.
Oh, and we also get an extended sequence in the third act that rips off a scene from The Warriors practically verbatim. They even brought in Lola Collette (daughter of franchise composer Tyler Bates) to cover “Nowhere to Run” for good measure. What the fuck?
The bottom line for John Wick: Chapter 4 is that it feels like a good place to end. The film is overstuffed with intriguing world-building, fantastic characters, spellbinding action scenes, and other random awesomeness. Even so, when something gets to feel like too much of a good thing, that’s a surefire sign that it’s time to switch it up or pack it in.
The best compliment I can pay this movie is that if you’ve already seen the past three movies and you’re a fan of the franchise, you won’t be disappointed by this latest entry. And if you haven’t seen the first three movies… well, first of all, get on that; but more importantly, this won’t be the film to bring you up to speed.
Chad Stahelski, Derek Kolstad, and the whole team behind this franchise rewrote the whole damn rulebook on action cinema, most especially regarding Hollywood productions. I’m excited to see what’s next for them, and what’s next for the world of The Continental.
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