Film Review: John Wick: Chapter 4

By Matthew Moorcroft

Highest Recommendation

  • Directed by Chad Stahelski
  • Starring Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgard, Ian McShane
  • R

When we catch up with John Wick at the start of his fourth chapter, it’s the first time in the series that there is a clear jump ahead in time. Wick is still scarred, but he isn’t limping around as much anymore. He’s instead in hiding, waiting for his next assignment. Like a good assassin. Cause what else does he know anymore but the sweet embrace of death to his enemies? This is the main thesis of the John Wick movies, and something Chapter 4 leans into for a seemingly final bow.

Having upped the ante in each prior film, Chapter 4 is unquestionably fantastic. But everybody knew that. The real question is how fantastic, and the real answer is that it’s so good that it might be criminal for any other action film to come out this year. This is as big, as loud, and as bombastic as they come, but also as polished, as precise, and as well-crafted as these things can be and maybe even more so. It’s numerous filmmaking influences beyond that of simply action movies elevate this to bigger heights of moviemaking, and also turns the John Wick movies into one of the best franchises ever put in Hollywood cinemas.

From it’s opening match cut which references Lawrence of Arabia in all of it’s glory – as well as attempting to match the initial scale of that film in several ways – to it’s final western inspired duel, Chapter 4 owes more of it’s influence this time around to the work of Sergio Leone, David Lean, and the Hong Kong films that initially inspired the franchise on a conceptual level. While the aspect of it being a living graphic novel is left intact, the toning down of the lore elements from the past two features allows Chapter 4 to feel more personal in spite of it’s grander ambitions. This is a western epic disguised a slick neo-noir B-movie – the story of a old cowboy coming back for one final showdown.

Reeves’ continued commitment to the character is evident, though new players like Donnie Yen, Hiroyuki Sanada, Scott Adkins, and especially newcomer Rina Sawayama make a case to rival him this time around. Most of the film’s best moments are when they are involved, and thankfully the film knows it and uses them in almost every scene, giving the even more quiet then usual Wick somebody to bounce off of. But in reality this is Chad Stahelski’s show, proving himself to be one of our great action directors of recent years. Just an incredible eye for detail and escalation, upping the ante in every single scene in increasingly stellar ways – a sequence involving a dragon breath shotgun being a highlight of the entire series and a great example of this.

But if the prior films were about Wick’s slow descent into hell, Chapter 4 is really about his final return. And by the end of it’s mammoth near 3 hour runtime, it genuinely feels like the last hurrah for the now iconic character, and that’s no easy feat. Peace ultimately achieved through bullets; the Baba Yaga’s fitting end is one that is echoed at the very start of the film – you are only truly at peace once you die. Death is everywhere in the film, and yet it’s the ones who are alive that feel the most lifeless, morbid as it is.

I’m currently unsure if Chapter 4 will end up being the Mad Max: Fury Road or Top Gun: Maverick of 2023 – that is an action film that receives mainstream awards attention – but it absolutely should be. It makes a great case for the idea of action as art, violence as theme, and stunt work as craftsmanship. It’s a beautifully shot work of pop cinema that will likely stand the test of time as one of action filmmaking’s finest achievements, and will also be easily one of the best of the year come December. Just magnificent on every front.

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