Review by Sean Boelman
Each film in the John Wick franchise has gotten progressively bigger — in terms of both scale and audience reaction. John Wick: Chapter 4 follows that trend, with action that is more ambitious than ever before, and it’s sure to delight audiences looking for an action-packed good time with their favorite retired assassin.
The film picks up after the events of Parabellum, as Keanu Reeves’s hitman sets out on a journey to defeat the High Table and earn back his freedom. As one would expect, the story largely exists in service of the action sequences and world-building, but it’s basically a nearly three-hour adrenaline rush and viewers aren’t asking for much more.
Although the films have gotten bigger and grander in scale with each outing, Chapter 4 does suffer from being somewhat overindulgent with regard to its length. It definitely takes too long for the film to get going, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where anything could have been cut without sacrificing story or cool action.
The film is structured into three acts, each of which takes place in a different country and has a central action set piece. The first third sets the pace with admirably cool action sequences with Japanese influences, then we get something much more rough and gritty in the second act that is still a ton of fun.
However, it is the final third that kicks it into overdrive that makes this film so extraordinary. There are three sequences in a row that, individually, could each be considered the best in the franchise, but being presented back-to-back are the epitome of the badassery the John Wick franchise has come to be known for.
In terms of how the film progresses Wick’s character arc, it leaves something to be desired. Chapter 2 still reigns victorious in how it manages to push the character’s growth forward. However, in returning to the revenge-driven nature of the first film, albeit with a much grander scale.
This entry also gives us the best villains we have seen in the franchise. Donnie Yen is a legendary martial artist, and he brings his skills to this role, but also an extraordinary empathy that makes the character feel more complex than other villains. Bill Skarsgård is extraordinarily menacing as the hand pulling the puppets’ strings. Shamier Anderson radiates charisma. And Scott Adkins disappears into his role in a way that is truly phenomenal.
John Wick: Chapter 4 probably should have been a bit shorter, but it’s still a massively enjoyable and technically accomplished work of action cinema. Fans of the franchise will absolutely be pleased to find that the team behind it are continuing to one-up themselves with each and every entry.
John Wick: Chapter 4 screened at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 10-18 in Austin, TX.