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MOVIES: John Wick: Chapter 4 - Review

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John Wick: Chapter 4 starts off with where you’d expect to end, the leader of the High Table, the mythical figure that John Wick sought out in Chapter Three, is sought out again – and in the opening few minutes, killed. Wick is on a quest for blood and vengeance – having been shot in the last film, is up and running again. His quest for bloodshed takes him to the East and to old friends, it’s a trip down memory lane as we return to the franchise that has been getting better and better with every instalment – there’s no two ways about it, each Wick is better than the last and this makes Chapter Four the franchise’s strongest instalment, and it earns that title.

Clocking it at around three hours the length of the film feels earned – there’s extensive, thirty plus minute long action sequences where all hell breaks loose, and a globetrotting affair that takes the action from the middle of the desert to the city of lights. In true Hollywood movie fashion, all the major landmarks of Paris are ticked off one-by-one – but this is not just any Hollywood movie franchise, this is the *John Wick* franchise, which uses all of them spectacularly for a bloodbath and one of the most creative action sequences in recent memory – the entire final act may be ripped off from The Warriors, yes, right down to the DJ announcing her next track is going out to John Wick and playing Nowhere to Run, and the subtle Morricone-influenced score that kicks in when the climax reaches its end point – but John Wick runs from the school of Quentin Tarantino: if you’re going to steal, steal well – the top-down overhead tracking shot shootout is visually enthralling, and all the gags in the fight sequences during the stair set piece played a blinder with my sold out crowd, everybody’s laughing where they were supposed to be.

The film itself feels like a meditation on grief and vengeance, Wick's quest for heaven tampered by his bloodlust, and when to tap out and accept the consequences of your actions. Wick’s on a path where he’s just going to kill the next guy that comes his way, but the film is as ever, aware of his mortality: he may be a living, breathing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare pro but even John Wick has his limits and he can’t kill everyone, as the High Table will just replace who tried to come after him with someone new. That does lead to one of the strengths of the film itself and how it uses its secondary characters – pretty much every cast member brings an entire mythology of their own to the table, completely believable and primed for spinoffs.

Donnie Yen, a blind assassin who is being weaponised by the High Table because of his daughter, Bill Skarsgard, the cocky Marquis de Gramont who wants Paris for himself and the honour of killing John Wick to be his, Ian McShane, the dethroned New York continental manager, Laurence Fishburne, the Bowery King – Clancy Brown, the Harbinger, all faces new and old add something to this script and the film has them build lives of their own that operate outside John Wick. The returning faces fit in seamlessly, both the Bowery King and Winston have taken their chances abroad, planning revenge, but in this harsh new world for them everyone has to obey by the old rules – and they can use that against the Marquis.

Some of these characters are incredibly well crafted even by Wick standards and among the best in the series, Lawrence of Arabia is referenced within the first ten minutes and the film explores the framework around Wick’s plight testing the length of the franchise within the framework of its own narrative: the film is aware of how many times it is asking the audience to believe Wick can keep killing for. Rina Sawayama is fantastic from the newcomers too – I loved both her and Shamier Anderson in this, as a prototype young Wick, dog and all - and the constant insanity of ass-kicking is one of the best put to film – Chad Stahelski moving with unmatched confidence and vision, immersing you in a world where every set piece you’re thinking “oh, this is the best action scene in the last few years” and then it’s immediately clear that the film isn’t done yet and there are more in store.

Revenge, mortality, consequences, it’s all wrapped up in a bloody, powerful action sequence after another. I like how they make Wick feel mortal in this one, slow but the smartest man in the room – able to use common sense in gunplay where others are more rash. Every character’s fighting style tells you something about who they are as people; unique and to the point – John Wick: Chapter 4 goes big with its opening salvo – I mean, to start off by referencing Lawrence of Arabia, you have to top it off with something special – and John Wick: Chapter 4 does just that – delivering everything it set out to do. The spectacle and love it has of its locations – Paris, Osaka, New York, the Sahara – give it a clear edge in a well-trodden world - the Sahara sequence would have alone been the plot for any lesser film, but in Wick, it's wrapped up in the thirty minutes. Wick against a mythical leader in the desert almost feels boring compared to what follows - when in itself it is a work of finesse - you can see why they skipped over it. There's far more interesting stories to tell.

Three hours long – if anything, isn’t enough. The film flew by, feeling like two hours – the fastest-paced three hour movie I’ve seen since Avatar: The Way of Water. It immerses you in its setting and world like when you’re watching it it’s the only movie ever made. An hourglass introduced in the first act betrays that the film is well aware of its length; and sets out, daring to challenge you to argue against it once the film is over – this is why stunt choreography should be a major category at the Oscars – the sheer love and craft in its gunplay here is something of a marvel. Action as art, and there are few better to do it.

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