Lionsgate’s John Wick movies have always been over-the-top action / thriller joyrides more focused on dazzling you with visceral, expertly choreographed action sequences than trying to tell the most coherent stories about stylish assassins. Director Chad Stahelski’s John Wick: Chapter 4 is no exception. And it abundantly delivers on the franchise’s hallmarks — snazzy guns, lovable dogs, and one very haggard man in black — by picking up right where 2019’s John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum left off.
Were this just any old chapter in the John Wick saga, it’d be fair to call the newest film slightly above average compared to its predecessors — and a testament to how far the franchise has come. But John Wick: Chapter 4 wants to be as monumental and seminal as it is bombastic — aspirations that the feature doesn’t quite manage to achieve despite giving it its best shot.
After three films of simply wanting to be left the hell alone, then wanting revenge, wanting to be left alone some more, and then being forced to go on the run, dog-loving widower and super-assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is tired but still very intent on making sure that the High Table gets what’s coming to it for trying to kill him. John Wick: Chapter 4 presumes Parabellum is still fresh in your mind as it immediately drops you right back into Wick’s jet-setting life of journeying to far-off places and popping off as many shots as it takes until his various targets are chock full of bullet wounds and quite dead.
With Wick still running around the world and demolishing virtually every single person who crosses his path, the High Table’s powers that be have every reason to be scared that he’ll find them and put them in the ground. That fear is what pushes the shadowy organization to start making the bold changes that set John Wick: Chapter 4’s story in motion.
Though John Wick’s just a man, Chapter 4 leans into the idea of him being the man (in black) — an assassin so clad in plot armor that he simply can’t be killed by conventional means or by following the ancient rules that made the High Table into the thriving operation that it is.
The Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård) isn’t just another trained killer gunner for Wick’s head. He’s a high-ranking High Table member who speaks for the entire organization when he lets Wick’s longtime allies Winston Scott (Ian McShane) and Charon (Lance Reddick) know that their ties to him will bring nothing but ruin into their lives. But John Wick: Chapter 4 also frames the Marquis as the High Table’s destructive arbiter of change — an embodiment of the future clashing with the past — and the existential fear he elicits in his fellow killers is one of the more interesting elements of the film.
The Marquis also gives Wick a singular convenient target to focus on as he works toward making the High Table pay for what it’s done to him and giving him back his freedom. But between Wick and the Marquis are hundreds, if not thousands, of trained killers, like blind swordsman Caine (Donnie Yen) dead set on collecting the ever-increasing bounty looming over the excommunicado-ed man’s head.
When Chapter 4’s purely focused on detailing how Wick methodically mows down his pursuers, you can feel just how in their elements stuntman-turned-director Stahelski and Reeves are. But in its many moments where the movie’s either building up to or cooling down from its big set pieces, there’s both a wobbliness and a narrative thinness that ends up highlighting how overlong and somewhat repetitive Chapter 4 ultimately feels.
While Chapter 4 does eventually pit Wick against the Marquis, it’s only after the former goes on a globe-trekking journey to get all the right tools and make the right alliances to be able to challenge the High Table head-on. Wick’s quest takes him to a Japanese branch of the Continental run by series newcomers Koji Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama) — neither of whom know what to make of the mysterious Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson), a notebook-toting tracker who travels with a German shepherd.
Because Chapter 4’s really about contemplating the future, and because the movie couldn’t just be about Wick taking on the world, all of the new faces are welcome additions. Both Sawayama and Anderson are captivating as two of the movie’s most distinct, personality-forward fighters who — because of their charisma and solid acting choices — stand out in sprawling fight sequences overstuffed with large groups of stunt performers brawling. But John Wick: Chapter 4 spends so much of its 169-minute runtime focused on Wick doing things we’ve seen him do a few times over at this point that few of the movie’s characters end up feeling like real people.
The John Wick movies are about action first, character second, and plot maybe fourth, after tailored suits, but there is so little depth to a lot of the Shay Hatten and Michael Finch script that even John Wick himself sometimes comes across as if he isn’t sure why he’s fighting or how he feels about it. As with the previous John Wick movies, Chapter 4’s prolonged fight scenes are kinetic, brutally beautiful odes to the art of stunt work, and each feels crafted with diehard fans of the franchise in mind. But the film’s approach to fan service — letting less action-filled scenes run more than a bit too long and making sure that almost every one of its background fistfights gets ample screen time — has the effect of making John Wick: Chapter 4 feel needlessly drawn out.
The ability of the John Wick movies to make you feel the blows as you watch Wick take and dole out beatings is one of the more impressive things about them, and it’s something Chapter 4’s able to do well to a point. But the movie is so chock full of battles that feel like they were stuffed into the movie to make it bigger that they start to mean less as the story unfolds and the body count rises.
The movie’s length also has an interesting way of emphasizing just how little John Wick actually says, which has a curious way of making him seem a bit checked out and disengaged from the people around him, who all speak almost exclusively in grim aphorisms. But Reeves’ aloof deadpan does work as a counterbalance to Chapter 4’s forays into goofy physical comedy. Some of them work, like a scene involving Wick fighting his way up a flight of stairs and then falling back down it. But others, like Wick’s fight with an obese High Table head from Germany named Killa (portrayed by Scott Adkins in a fat suit), do not — and come across as cringe at best, mean-spirited at worst.
John Wick: Chapter 4 isn’t a movie you casually sit down to watch apropos of nothing. It’s a commitment, both in terms of how long it is and in how invested you really have to be in the idea of John Wick for the film to be engaging. To its credit, John Wick: Chapter 4 does an admirable job of leaving open possibilities for a future filled with stories of some of the movie’s new supporting characters. It comes as a pleasant surprise given how much time this story spends trying to remind you that Wick is the baddest man in town.
John Wick: Chapter 4 also stars Laurence Fishburne, Clancy Brown, Natalia Tena, Marko Zaror, Bridget Moynahan, and George Georgiou. The movie hits theaters on March 24th.