Second Opinion: Why John Wick – Chapter 4 is a five star slice of nirvana for fans of action cinema

Following on from Peter’s review earlier this week, our own Harris Dang tells us why the latest installment in the John Wick series is a five star slice of nirvana for fans of action cinema…

John Wick – Chapter 4 continues the story of our titular anti-hero (Keanu Reeves), who is currently at his lowest ebb. Betrayed by his friend and supposed mentor Winston (Ian McShane), being hunted down by the High Table and left for dead, he is taken in by the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) and nursed back to health. Now, he is back in tip-top shape and he has discovered a way out from under the rule of the High Table.

The proposal is to challenge the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard) into single combat; duelling pistols at dawn in order for Wick to win his freedom. However, with numerous new adversaries and few old friends along the way, there are those at the High Table who will do whatever it takes to prevent Wick from making it to the duel at all.

The John Wick franchise has been rightfully praised as action masterpieces; filled with striking martial arts sequences, explosive gunplay, thrilling car chases and immersive visual storytelling. So, it does become quite unbelievable that after Chapter 3 – Parabellum, can the latest chapter go even further? The answer is a resounding yes. John Wick – Chapter 4 is where the franchise hits its peak; it is cinematic nirvana for action fans.

One of the amazing things about the fourth chapter is the growth that filmmaker Chad Stahelski has achieved as a director. Staging proficient action scenes with clarity and power is one thing when going from stuntman to second-unit directing. But to convey such reverence and confidence in visual storytelling that complement the action scenes as well as its characters; making it all work in sync as well as it does shows how far Stahelski has come as a born cinematic storyteller.

The story (credited to screenwriters Shay Hatten and Michael Finch) is linear yet epic in scope and ambition, the characters are tried-and-true yet enjoyably personable (many of them can easily handle their own film), the settings are strikingly otherworldly and the mise-en-scene is vivid and playfully transcendent (production designer Kevin Kavanaugh and cinematographer Dan Lausten make a triumphant return). One stand-out moment in the film takes place in an abandoned building where the shoot-out is not only shot in a singular take but is shot in a God’s-eye POV shot; like vertically-scrolling video-games.

The reverence that Stahelski shows in his film is palpable from frame one. In the first few minutes, we get a homage to a classic match cut from Lawrence of Arabia. In the first major set-piece set in Osaka, we get several displays of martial arts that range from jujutsu. Sumo and Japanese swordplay. The costume design (by Paco Delgado) makes stark references to classic action cinema (one specific case calls to mind the Hong Kong action/crime flick S.P.L by Wilson Yip). In fact, the character of John Wick has less dialogue here in this film in comparison to the previous films, which is in reference to the character of Blondie (played by Clint Eastwood) in the Sergio Leone films. That and many more displays in the film are enjoyable to spot and lend the film much replay value.

Speaking of display, the action scenes are even more remarkably distinct and audacious than any of the set-pieces in the previous entries. Human bodies get pulverised in ways that one would think that people had died during shooting. The settings of such carnage range from being highly dangerous (staircases, oncoming traffic in the Arc de Triomphe, an abandoned apartment building) or visually extravagant (a crowded, neon-lit nightclub with vast waterfalls and a weapons museum filled with Japanese weaponry); the martial arts are vast in variety (with nunchucks being the stand-out) and the style is even more amusingly infectious (Wick’s location and status is repeatedly reported to assassins as a radio show DJ broadcast, that carries on the analogue technology in the world). It is genuinely hard to believe that no one died while making this film.

It helps that Stahelski becomes self-knowing of the ridiculousness of the situations but he never revels in it in terms of humour. The sense of humour in John Wick – Chapter 4 is less insistent and more sophisticated this time around. Like the previous four films, Stahelski never rams the joke in the audience’s throat and plays it in a more subtle manner. One great example is when Wick takes off his suit, you can hear the rattle of the bullets hitting the ground. Or when Donnie Yen’s blind assassin character Caine uses audio props to play the sounds of doorbells to assist him while fighting.

Speaking of taking suits off, the rogue’s gallery of characters portrayed by the actors ooze cool and enact impressive feats of physicality; making them stand-out in the best of ways. We have talented actors who are fantastic martial artists like Donnie Yen (memorably rebellious), Hiroyuki Sanada (intimidating and understated), Scott Adkins (hilariously comical, looking like a villain straight out of Dick Tracy) and Marko Zaror (fearsome and uncompromising) who bring their A-game both physically and dramatically. We have rising actors like Rina Sawayama (who is bursting with dramatic potential), Bill Skarsgard (cunning in the best of ways), Natalia Tena and Shamier Anderson (enigmatic and amusingly droll) who clearly put in the effort for their stuntwork and provide promising appeal. Then we have veteran actors like Ian McShane (surprisingly playful), Lance Reddick (unquestionably loyal), Laurence Fishburne (gloriously pantomime) and Clancy Brown (towering yet pensive) who lend credibility and a winking sense of fun in their small roles.

Overall, John Wick – Chapter 4 is nirvana for fans of action cinema; an incredible feat of controlled chaos jam-packed with stuntwork and memorable visual storytelling that consistently surprises, awes and thrills led by a fantastic cast of cool cats that are so hot with charisma that they would make water boil with jealousy. Highly recommended.

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John Wick – Chapter 4 is in cinemas now.

Harris Dang

Rotten Tomatoes-approved Film Critic. Also known as that handsome Asian guy you see in the cinema with a mask on.