What began as a mid budget actioner, almost destined for the direct to video realm, John Wick has near single handedly changed the way audiences view action cinema.
With that success has come a bigger budget, and a bigger story. The further Wick’s world opens up with each subsequent outing, we’re treated to an ever growing rogue’s gallery of colourful and often times soon-to-be-pulverised characters. And each are played by well known and highly regarded martial arts stars. Director Chad Stahelski, an expert martial artist, stuntman and choreographer, has turned the series in to a kind of love letter to action cinema, pouring almost every resource (and possibly blood) he has into Chapter 4.
Following on from the events of Parabellum, we find everyone’s favourite puppy avenger resurfacing to dismantle the nefarious High Table from the top down, drawing the ire of Table senior Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard). Gramont isn’t simply satisfied with killing Wick, he wants to kill the very idea of the man, erasing all traces of the legend of the Baba Yaga. To do this, he enlists the help of former Wick ally and blind assassin, Caine (Donnie Yen) along with a wildcard tracker (Shamier Anderson) who’s looking for a hefty payday along with his canine companion. Carnage ensues, balletic and plentiful.
Where Parabellum walked a fine line of being an exhaustive endeavour, Chapter 4 manages to balance out the world building with blistering carnage that never overstays its welcome. It does this by expanding out the roster of eclectic no-gooders. If this instalment had a subtitle, it would be John Wick and Friends. The more colourful characters of this bombastic universe are given nearly as much screen time as John, and it’s a surprisingly welcome choice. And no choice is more welcome than the addition of one blind assassin.
As popular and well known as Donnie Yen is as an action star, Hollywood hasn’t had much idea on how to best utilise him. Searing, simmering star power, he stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Jet Li and Jackie Chan, and yet, this writer would argue that he’s never been given his proper due in the West. Stahelski, ever the student of cinema, unleashes Yen on the audience, taking full advantage of every ounce of swagger and charisma the Ip Man actor has. The blind swordsman could easily be a played out archetype, but in Yen’s hands (and fists), Caine is on the fast track to become a fan favourite of the franchise, possibly eclipsing Mr Wick himself. It’s easy to force cool, it’s another thing to be cool. Yen does the latter with such ease and ferocity, one has to wonder why it took so long to add him to the series.
While Reeves doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the character of John, he certainly hasn’t taken anything away from him. Wearing the character like a well fitted (bulletproof) suit, Reeves has the essence of Wick down to a mere look. He heaves and lumbers through every fight sequence, wearing the damage of each violent encounter like a badge of honour, refusing to give up until he’s burned through every level of Hell he fights his way through.
Stahelski feels like a kid in a candy store. Piling on every bone crunching trick he’s learned throughout his extensive career, he’s determined to not only bring back big, R rated action cinema to a wider audience, but treat it with such a creative and technical earnestness, that he refuses to leave anything in the tank. It’s obvious the man watches a lot of movies, analysing and dissecting every bit of action he can get his hands on and figuring out how he can best push those boundaries. Thought Tom Cruise driving against traffic around the Arc de Triomphe was cool? Stahelski asks you to hold his beer as he launches multiple bodies, cars and bullets in the same location in an utterly brain jarring sequence of action ingenuity. And while much has been said about a now infamous overhead shootout sequence, watching Yen slurp noodles in the shadows before decimating a kitchen full of goons is enough to get even the most cynical of viewers jazzed. It’s the simple things.
John Wick Chapter 4 is now in cinemas