John Wick: Chapter 4 feels more like a video game than a movie. That’s not a dig at video games, no sir (we love them), but throughout this latest instalment in the underdog action franchise, there’s a distinct vibe that this is something that should be played more then watched. From its (almost) silent protagonist to the stop-start nature of the action and the way every fight builds up to a ‘final boss’ of some sort, this particular film has all the makings of a great shoot-em-up third-person shooter. As a film, it’s a mixed bag.
Like with most standard action games, plot takes a backseat to the action, as the film picks up where the last left off with former assassin Wick (Keanu Reeves) preparing to exact his revenge against the shady organisation known as the High Table, who in turn still have a hit out on him following the events of the previous chapter. There’s little more to the plot then that, as Wick fights, shoots and stabs his way through countless hired goons across the globe in typical blood-soaked fashion.
At 169 minutes, there are distinct moments throughout Chapter 4 where the length is felt. The central plot is slow to kick off and there are long passages throughout where the film overstays its welcome thanks to the overinflated running time – the extra-long length never feels entirely justified, and even the extended action scenes begin to feel nauseating as a result of this overindulgence.
It’s a shame, as the action sequences are pretty much on brand for this franchise (i.e. excellent). Every punch-up or shoot-out is impressively kinetic, inventive, violent and loud, with every single one feeling distinctive and fresh in terms of execution. From a bone-crunching battle on a busy Paris road around the Arc de Triomphe to a back-breaking scuffle on the Montmartre stairs, the stunt work and direction throughout is impeccable. Chad Stahelski‘s inventive angles and camera work frame every punch, every stab, every shot in a way that feels visceral and real, to the point that every impact feels as if it were our own head being smashed or kicked in.
In terms of the slower, more character driven moments in-between the action, there’s less thrills to be had. There’s little-to-no development for John Wick at this point, the writers and Reeves clearly having taken the character as far as they can. It’s an undemanding role for Reeves and he looks stylish and skilled in the action sequences, but as far as acting goes, there’s not much here for him to sink his teeth into on any kind of emotional level.
Instead, there’s some neat new characters that come fully fleshed out – blind assassin Caine (Donnie Yen) and bounty hunter Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson) both delight throughout and are instantly likeable despite their antagonistic relationship with our central hero, whilst Bill Skarsgård‘s Marquis proves to be a wonderfully icy cold villain that elicits our hate from the moment he first appears. There is however, a disappointing lack of female characters here, aside from Rina Sawayama‘s Akira, who appears briefly before being completely written out of the film altogether, and an entirely wasted Natalia Tena who shows up for a few minutes to throw in some exposition. Understandably, too many characters would only serve to bloat proceedings even more than they already are, but its distinctly odd how much of a men’s club the final climax feels.
Like many a recent video game, John Wick: Chapter 4′s problems lie with its over-extended run-time. An exhausting experience and not always for the right reasons, the film is good, but an over-stretched narrative feels more of a hindrance then a help to the overall experience. Moments of plot stretch credibility to the max and the film remains mostly humourless despite a few unintentional OTT line deliveries. And yet, somehow the final product manages to be coherent and engaging, largely thanks to the solid direction, stomping sound design, excellent editing and sensational stunts.
Had Chapter 4 been a bit shorter, it would no doubt stand out as one of the greatest action movies in recent years. Instead, it’s just good.