John Wick Chapter 4 review: More of the same bubblegum violence
You could make a strong case for John Wick being a satire. The first movie took the tropes of an action movie – a relentless, taciturn hero reluctantly dragged back into the underworld, motivated by his love for a dead/kidnapped family member – and reduced them to absurdity by making the trigger for his triple-figure killing spree a stolen puppy.
Now on its fourth “chapter”, the franchise could be described as a satire of action movies that have become franchises. Where once there were a few hundred Russians standing in the way of a dog, now there is a grand network of underground – and, honestly, overground – assassins divided into various clans, all of which serve under one Illuminati-esque organisation referred to as the High Table.
The Table wants to kill Wick, for reasons that don’t matter, and will spare no expense to achieve this. With few remaining friends, Wick heads to neon-soaked Osaka, industrial Berlin, rain-swept New York and, finally, Paris, racking up air miles that even James Bond would be pleased with.
There have always been echoes of classic Hollywood Westerns to these films and that’s more explicit than ever, with Wick entering the frame on horseback and the film building towards literal pistols at dawn; I haven’t seen this many cowboy samurais since Kill Bill.
The fight sequences are a never-ending series of bubblegum pop vignettes that bear as much similarity to real-world violence as dressage does to mounted combat.
Wick pirouettes, tangos and waltzes his way through gun fights, knife fights, sword fights and fights that defy easy categorisation, weaving a web of destruction through hotels, galleries, nightclubs and, most impressive of all, the road that rings the Arc de Triomphe, where the traffic is every bit as terrifying as it is in real life.
Director Chad Stahelski, once Keanu Reeves’ stunt double in The Matrix, has always worn his influences on his sleeve – French neo-noir, kung fu movies, grind-house – but is more confident than ever paying homage to his inspirations; and he’s clearly been reading comic books and playing video games.
A blind assassin called Caine, who fights using a kind of echo-location (there’s a great scene involving a series of stick-on electric doorbells), is a nod to Daredevil character Stick, while another baddie recalls Batman antagonist The Penguin. And a brilliantly propulsive scene set in an apartment block, shot from above, clearly references the 2012 video game Hotline Miami, with Wick weaving chaotically from room to room, the centre-piece in a joyful kaleidoscope of blood and gunpowder.
John Wick himself is now a superhero in all but name – at one point he plummets from a fifth story window onto a parked car, which sets him back for all of 10 seconds before he’s back on his feet, preparing to be kicked down the 222 steps of Paris’s Rue Foyatie.
The first movie was a little over 90 minutes; this one stretches to nearly three hours, which is a long time to ingest this much visual sugar.
It’s not hard to spot the fat: there are far too many grandiose exchanges about honour and destiny and legacy, all of which are so silly they could be delivered in a language you don’t speak without losing any of their impact.
But Stahelski is the best in the business, and even approaching the three hour mark I was grinning like a loon every time someone was thrown extravagantly from a building or had their bollocks torn off by a dog. For a man who can’t act, Reeves has incredible presence and I genuinely believe there’s no better action hero working in Hollywood today.
There will inevitably be more John Wicks to come and they will inevitably be functionally identical to this one and I will inevitably love them, too.