Chad Stahelski’s action thriller starring Keanu Reeves is on screen
One of the many masters of mayhem in Chapter 4 of John Wick claims that the bloodshed wasn’t necessary. His interlocutor responded that the point was the bloodshed.
The latest installment in one of the most self-aware franchises constantly poses – and then answers – questions about its raison d’être. Chad Stahelski’s film reaches the pinnacle of meta-ness when its gnomic hero battles multiple opponents at the foot of the steps leading to Paris’ Sacre-Coeur church, only to be shoved back down and forced to start all over again.
Since the first movie in 2014, feared assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has been stuck in a loop. Since John avenged the death of a puppy given to him by his late wife, the netherworld – and action movies – have undoubtedly never been the same.
The bureaucracy that oversees this global network, the strict rules of the High Table, the Continental chain of hotels reserved only for professional killers, and a private communication service run by heavily tattooed women all helped to create a comic book-style parallel universe that exists outside the bounds of reality and logic.
Winston (Ian McShane), the dapper manager of Continental’s New York outpost, the hotel’s smooth concierge Charon (Lance Reddick), and the maverick gang leader known as the Bowery King are John’s only allies in his never-ending personal war against the High Table (Laurence Fishburne).
The film starts slowly, indicating that Stahelski and co-writers Shay Hatten and Michael Finch have taken the franchise’s faux-solemnity to heart. Chapter 4 makes us wait far too long for the new ways in which Stahelski has reimagined the action sequence, just as movie theatres bore audiences with trailers and commercials before showing the main feature.
The film never disappoints on this front. Numerous diehards take on the One Who Cannot Die, aiming blows, firearms, knives, and whatever else is available, only to be spectacularly rebuffed. The brilliantly choreographed action’s desperate, kill-or-be-killed quality almost justifies the 169-minute runtime.
Is it true that John fought an army of outlaws in the middle of traffic at the Arc de Triomphe? After a slow-moving first act, an extended brawl in a Berlin nightclub between John and high-table heavyweight Killa (Scott Adkins) even as oblivious revelers writhe to techno beats is a welcome return to business.
Despite extending John’s agony, the film has plenty to enjoy, from Dan Lausten’s evocative color-coded cinematography to John’s colorful companions. The film’s attention to its gangster cool aesthetic is summed up by a line about “ballistic chic.”
Winston wants to know when it will end, John. Not anytime soon, Winston, not anytime soon. The fourth time around, Ian McShane was a wry charmer. Donnie Yen, the Hong Kong martial arts star, shines as the blind terminator who is nearly as lethal as John.
Keanu Reeves, now 58 years old, was born to play John Wick. It’s difficult to imagine another actor playing John’s Sisyphean task. But, alongside Tom Cruise, Hollywood’s fittest action hero shows signs of fatigue. Even his standard response, “Yeah,” sounds like fan service, as Reeves’ dialogue delivery is more stilted than usual.
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