Thanks to extravagant sets, a Rogues gallery of interesting assassins and its hallmark fast-paced flurry of guns/knives/martial arts action, “John Wick: Chapter 4” may be the most entertaining entry of this formidable film franchise yet.
While the uninitiated may walk into “Wick 4” wondering what all the ‘excommunicado’ talk’s about, the nice thing about the Wick films is the clichéd-comfort in your knowledge of movies dealing with one-man wrecking crews going against a powerful organization of elite a-holes. While you don’t have to know the complete back story to enjoy “Wick 4,” your understanding of films like Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns or Bronson’s bullet-piercing payback pictures is enough to fill the chasm.
“Wick 4” opens with Keanu Reeves’ return as former Russian mob assassin John Wick (nicknamed ‘the Boogeyman’ for his ability to appear like an apparition and kill anything that moves) on the run from those out to kill him for a ‘beaucoup-de-bucks’ bounty on his head placed by the High Table (the bad guy organization controlling all assassins) out to stop Wick for coming back once his mob bosses gave Wick his freedom. Though Wick’s killing spree stemmed from reclaiming his stolen Mustang and avenging his murdered puppy, Wick’s body count commands the High Table to get their French-accented member named the Marquis (Bill Skarsgard) involved to quell Wick’s carnage.
The Marquis finds an assassin named Caine (Donnie Yen) to do the job and the action moves to Osaka where Wick seeks sanctuary. Though Caine is blind, he shoots and stabs people with a Samurai sword like he actually has sight. Also on Wick’s trail is a tracker (Shamier Anderson) monitoring Wick’s whereabouts to cash in at the most opportune time. While the tracker is incredibly good at finding Wick despite Wick’s ghost-like stealth, he’s also aided by a German shepherd who attacks would-be assailants to let the tracker trace his target untroubled.
In Osaka, the action’s aplenty- while we’ve seen this gun and swordplay intricately orchestrated before by director Chad Stahelski (director of the three previous Wick films/Keanu’s former stunt double), it never gets old watching something done well. Wick escapes and finds old pal Winston (Ian McShane) who may have the solution for Wick to gain his freedom- find a sponsor from the High Table to set a mano-a-mano duel to the death with the Marquis.
Of course, obstacles to that end continue to come Wick’s way (the best being an aptly-named thug named Killa (Scott Adkins) who smiles a gold ‘grill’ and deals a stacked deck). It all culminates with a combustible climax in Paris that features a car chase around the Arc de Triomphe and a gauntlet of gunfire climbing the steps to the Sacre-Coeur. Will Wick win his freedom or continue to dodge death?
More than anything, I was nostalgic watching “Wick 4” and the movie memories it stirred: Wick on horseback wearing his trademark black suit, shooting as he rode (McQueen minus the horse in “The Getaway”), two men shooting through opposite sides of screen dividers in Osaka (any John Woo movie, namely “Face/Off”), Killa’s purple suit and gold teeth (James Bond’s Jaws mixed with Batman’s Joker), the Marquis’ right-hand man Harbinger played by actor Clancy Brown (most memorable as “Highlander’s” villain Kurgan). ***Let’s face it- when you get the actors who played Kurgan and Pennywise the Clown to be John Wick villains, you’re doing something right.
As the longest running of the Wick films, it moves fast. The sets are great, particularly the obligatory night club where Killa’s camped and Wick has to move through in his traditional ‘bullet ballet’ – not since the ‘80’s have I seen neon and cascading waterfalls used so well. Also, an aerial rotating camera that catches Wick moving through a dilapidated building wielding a shotgun whose buckshot bursts into flames upon impact? C’mon….how can you resist? While sequels usually go the way of the wind, “Wick 4” still succeeds- its continued inventive action feeds our inert pleasure for payback.