John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)
Directed by Chad Stahelski
Starring Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård and Shamier Anderson
How much of a good thing eventually makes a good thing not so good? John Wick: Chapter 4 answers this question for filmgoers.
When I saw it last week on opening night, the theater was packed with men from their 20’s to their 70’s eagerly awaiting for new and inventive ways to see people die.
Are the mindless waves of assailants who attack the title character in John Wick films really people, though? Has death lost so much meaning on the silver screen that the slaughtering of sacrificial human avatars means nothing to us anymore?
The body count In the fourth (and hopefully last) installment of this Keanu Reaves vehicle was certainly impressive, if you are impressed by such things. Judging from the “oohs,” “awws” and “oh, damns!” from the audience, most people in the theatre are impressed by such things.
Chapter 4’s plot, like the plot of every film in this franchise, is simple: people want John Wick dead, and they will send mindless waves of assailants as well as a few boss-level attackers to make sure it gets done. Along for the ride once again are great character actors Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne and Lance Reddick (RIP), who show up as reminders of the simpler times… simpler times when the body count was in the hundreds, not the thousands, and the battles took place exclusively in New York.
Chapter 4 takes us all over the world, a plot device used successfully in film franchises like Bond, Mission Impossible and Bourne. I assume director Chad Stahelski had a much larger budget than the previous installments in the John Wick franchise, which allowed him to treat us to the beauty of Osaka, Berlin and Paris. There is even a pit stop in a middle eastern desert that gives a visual nod to Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
But for all the beautiful locations on screen, something is missing – the beauty of meaningful dialogue. Retreaded lines delivered by McShane and Fishburne feel like they exist for nostalgia alone. Most of the dialogue fell hollow on the ears of all the bros in the theater eagerly awaiting the next inventive kill.
Hollow as well were the protagonist’s interactions with father/daughter combination Shimazu and Akira played by Hiroyuki Sanada and Rina Sawayama respectively. The Japanese action legend and Japanese-British pop superstar both shine in their limited roles, but their connection to Wick and the story are unneeded. Interactions between the characters played by Bill Skarsgård and newcomer Shamier Anderson definitely didn’t ring hollow. Their scenes were among the freshest in the film. Another stand out was HONG KONG legend Donnie Yen as blind assassin Caine. His quips and style frequently outshined Keanu’s dumbfounded Wick.
This bloated 2 hour and 49-minute action film is full of extravagant set pieces and unneccesary scenes. As the bodies of mindless waves of attackers pile up after being shot, sliced or bludgeoned, at about the 1-hour mark, I gave up trying to enjoy the action and started to introspectively examine why me and all of the other men in the theatre came for this type of stimulation on the film’s opening night. Does our caveman physiology cause us to seek out acts of violence and savagery because we don’t encounter them IRL? Is that what cinema is for now? To show us the exhilaration of violence from the comfort of a temperature-controlled room and comfy IMAX chair? Or maybe after watching beautifully immersive films this year like Close, Emily, Of an Age and A Quiet Girl, the latest John Wick felt too much like homework for a film critic. Please don’t tell any of the bros at the theater from opening night, but I might be a “wuss.”
The Keanusaunce is over. Long live the Keanusaunce. Just because an actor is a likable guy doesn’t mean he gets a pass after phoning in a string of phoned-in performances dating back to John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017). Take a rest sir and come back to reinvent yourself in ten years, Keanu. We will all accept you with open arms.
If the previous Wicks were all B’s and C’s then this (hopefully) last Wick is C-.