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Nathan Weinbender reviews "John Wick: Chapter 4"


The reason the first John Wick movie, released nearly a decade ago, was so refreshing was that it was a lean, mean, 90-minute antidote to overstuffed, overly complicated action blockbusters, as terse and no-nonsense as the man of its title. It introduced us to a widower and retired hitman played by Keanu Reeves who was very, very mad that some very, very bad men had killed his dog, and that was all there was to it.

And now we’re at John Wick: Chapter 4, which is nearly twice as long as that original film, and which introduces us to enough new supporting characters to power a long-running comic book series. It’s a lot of movie, one that begins with a visual reference to Lawrence of Arabia, ends with a pistol duel at dawn, and in between contains some of the most exhilarating action sequences of recent years.

John Wick continues his campaign of revenge against the High Table, the ultra-powerful cabal that oversees an international network of assassins. As the movie begins, Wick blows away the guy who’s even one rung above the High Table, thinking he may have finally closed the book on his initial mission of vengeance.

But it angers the devious Marquis Vincent de Gramont (played by Bill Skarsgård), who puts a price on Wick’s head. And as in the earlier films, our hero is beseeched by killers everywhere he goes, in a series of gratuitous and ruthless fight scenes that inspire as many laughs of incredulity as admiration. Like John Woo, director Chad Stahelski understands that these sequences should be choreographed with both the precision of a Fred Astaire song-and-dance number, and the snappy comic timing and elastic physics of a Tex Avery cartoon.

John Wick: Chapter 4 is the platonic ideal of an epic action film: it gives us just enough story to move us along, but it’s really about the fighting. The first showstopper is set in the Osaka branch of the assassin-friendly Continental Hotel, where the melee begins on the roof, spills down into a glass-filled ballroom and keeps going down to the ground floor.

The movie ends in Paris, where Stahelski stages three remarkable set pieces in rapid succession: a brawl in the midst of the traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe, which resembles the world’s deadliest game of Frogger; a protracted sequence in a crumbling mansion that takes on a God’s eye view of the carnage; and Wick’s trudge up a long, long set of stairs populated by dozens of bad guys. In a Sisyphean bit of comedy, Wick reaches the top, tumbles down, down, down, and then starts back up again.

John Wick: Chapter 4 only brings back a handful of recognizable faces, including Ian McShane and the late Lance Reddick. There are a bunch of new characters this time around, including Donnie Yen as a blind assassin, Shamier Anderson as a bounty hunter attempting to keep Wick alive so as to increase the bounty, and Scott Adkins as a poker-playing crime boss who resembles a Dick Tracy villain.

But the engine driving this increasingly complicated system of gears is Keanu Reeves, who finds stillness amidst the chaos. John Wick: Chapter 4 ends on a note of finality, but because Wick himself has the dogged persistence of Wile E. Coyote, I’m sure they’ll find a way to contrive a fifth chapter. Even so, it’s hard to imagine how they’ll top this one.

For Spokane Public Radio, I'm Nathan Weinbender.


Nathan Weinbender is a film critic and one of the regular co-hosts for Spokane Public Radio’s Movies 101, heard Friday evenings at 6:30 PM here on KPBX.

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