‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new John Wick: Chapter 4 is fast-moving, incredibly violent and totally entertaining. The preceding movies in the series were great setups for this one. Wick, a former assassin, is living alone, mourning his dead wife, when he is attacked and the one being he loves, his dog, is killed. That sets off a series of stylish revenge murders that moved their way through the three earlier films.
In this one, Wick (Keanu Reeves) is still being chased by the “High Table,” the coordinating group for killers of all types around the globe. But he discovers that there is no way out. His former mentor Winston (Ian McShane), the proprietor of the High Table’s base in New York, is told by the Marquis (Bill Skarsgård), head of the High Table, that his hotel will be destroyed. His most loyal employee Charon (Lance Reddick) is shot as an example.
This sets off a great chase with the Marquis assigning Caine (Donnie Yen), a blind master assassin, off to kill Wick in Japan. That leads to a great battle scene at the hotel of another friend, Shimazu’s (Hiroyuki Sanada), that leads to an enormous death toll. And Wick then begins, with advice from Winston and another friend, the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), to get to the Marquis for a duel. In the midst of all of this is a new character, the Tracker (Shamier Anderson), who with the help of his very talented dog is constantly able to track Wick.
The final major battle scene in Paris is a total wow. Wick manages to kill more people, generally at very close range, than James Bond probably has in all his films. But it all holds together beautifully.
There are several good reasons for that. First of all, instead of fancy close-ups and quick shots to allow not very good fighting actors to get by, most of the scenes are filmed at enough of a distance to be able to see that people like Reeves and Yen are doing their own stunts. The fight choreography is brilliant. The Paris fight scenes, featuring a major gun fight/knife fight is mixed in with cars hitting many of the participants and lots of near misses. It is a very long fight scene, but it holds together. And the fight in Montmartre near the end, beginning with some fights inside some buildings, building up to a battle on the 222 steps up to the Sacré-Coeur will be considered a classic.
Another reason for the success of the series is the number of interesting characters. McShane’s Winston is almost always urbane and witty, a man defining the essence of style. But he is also inherently decent. Reddick, who died recently, was superb as the very loyal Charon. Fishburne was very strong in what was almost a comic role. Skarsgård was an ideal villain. Far too young, it was clear that he was in many ways a spoiled child given far too much power and quite willing to abuse it. Clancy Brown as a representative of the rest of the High Table was a very good balancing force.
Sanada was excellent, dignified even when under stress, an exceptional fighter for the right reasons, a good friend to Wick and a father, frightened for the future of his daughter (Rina Sawayama). She was also very good both in terms of acting and in fight scenes. Anderson played a fascinating character really well. He was the most ambivalent of all the characters. He also brought in great humor. But Yen pretty well stole every scene he was in. He was brilliant in the fight scenes and made his character incredibly memorable.
Reeves was, of course, the hero, but in some ways he was simpler than most of the others. A warrior, he fought to the death as well as to put it off. He is a welcome return to our old ideas of the hero: tough, decent and not at all a wimp. But the real hero of the film is director Chad Stahelski. This is a long movie, 2 hours and 40 minutes long, and it feels like the action never stops. And the action is superb.
If you like tough, excellent action movies, this is definitely one for you. But not for kids.