Never do a fourth one.
If you look at Hollywood action franchises, that is the criticism you hear that transcends any era or trend. Indiana Jones, the pinnacle of action-adventure cinema, had a perfect trilogy blighted by a fourth entry. The same goes with the Bourne franchise which first slapped the character’s name on an inferior project before getting Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass back for Jason Bourne, a movie I’m sure you forgot exists. Even The Matrix threw away all the momentum of the original trilogy being re-evaluated as more than one classic and two duds by the existence of Resurrections. Maybe the novelty truly wears off after three go-arounds, or maybe the existence of these poorer movies is nothing more than Hollywood greed. Probably both. This is what John Wick is up against – but can he put a needlessly high amount of bullets in this concept?
Chapter Four picks up however many months it takes John to recover from Winston shooting him off the Continental roof at the end of Chapter Three, and he is pissed. The plot is the usual delightful nonsense, in which an impeccably-dressed villain – this time played by Bill Skarsgard – who represents the Top Table is tasked with ending Mr Wick’s quite embarrassing killing spree. Being so well coiffed and rude himself, he hires other people to do it and since John has killed everyone else, the best candidate is a retired assassin named Caine, played by the legendary Donnie Yen, who happens to be blind. You would think this would be a disadvantage but in the reality (a laughable choice of words) of Wick’s world, this merely gives John a fighting chance against him. Gumming up the works is Tracker, or Mr Nobody as he likes to be called, who is sometimes an ally and sometimes an obstacle depending on how high the price on John’s head is. It’s all very dramatic, operatic, ridiculous and, as usual, fucking glorious.
One of this series’ greatest assets is its tone. It brilliantly toes the line of being cool as all hell and being very silly, and that just describes Ian McShane’s Winston. It’s operatic action at it’s best, globe-trotting and speed-running every European stereotype you can imagine, but somehow doing it with enough of a nod and a wink as to sneak it under the radar.
I have to say that, despite how great Chapter Four is, and how much praise I’m going to give it, I have to mention Keanu Reeves. This man’s commitment to making John Wick as formidable as possible is well-documented and only gets more impressive with every movie. Yet, acting-wise, the man stunk the place up; the audience in our cinema audibly tensed every time he had a line of dialogue, preparing for the worst, and usually recieving it.
According to some reports, Reeves scrapped about half his lines and thank the bloody matrix he did. Every time he opens his mouth, I had to brace myself for a line delivery so awful it nearly blew my brain out the back of my skull; it’s a bafflingly dreadful performance, hard to conceive of why a director would ask for or even accept this dire level of quality.
Here is the thing, though: I don’t care. I’ve been watching Keanu Reeves for most of my life and, if I was watching his movies expecting him to turn into Christian Bale, I would have been an idiot. Why should he get away with it? Because he’s a dedicated action star who is hugely responsible for keeping practical action alive, and his commitment to delivering that amazing action just about makes up for his desecration of the acting craft. Plus, everyone else in these movies is giving it their all – surrounded by outstanding actors like Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Lance Reddick, and Donnie Yen, along with stellar cameos, Reeves is at least propped up by an excellent supporting cast.
We all know that all of this is just the garnish. I could feel it myself as Chapter Four took its time getting all of he pieces together. Director Chad Stahelski knows how to tease his audience and when the fists and arrows and blades start flying I was nearly crying with joy – it’s almost unfathomably brilliant to watch, extraordinarily precise and tight while delivering a free-flowing feel at the same time.
It’s masterful stuff, which makes a lot of sense because Chapter Four, to me, is about masters. Both within in the plot and the cast, of course, but also in the visual references of the movie itself. We have a blown out match/sunrise cut just like in Lawrence of Arabia to open the film, a father and daughter Continental team from Japan named after Akira and Koji Kurasawa, a third act riffing on The Warriors, and a final showdown resembling something out of a Spaghetti western. All of these references point to directors that are masters of their craft; David Lean perfected the epic, Akira Kurasawa’s influence on global cinema and action cinema especially is the stuff of legend, Walter Hill perfected the urban odyssey in The Warriors, and Sergio Leone’s The Good the Bad and the Ugly is all over the final duel.
Stahelski is clearly paying homage to the films and directors he loves and their influence on him as a filmmaker. I would argue that, with John Wick Chapter Four, he should join their ranks. That might sound ridiculous, but who is making better action cinema right now? Marvel and DC can’t touch it, the Fast Franchise is too patchy and has Vin Diesel suffocating nearly every director’s vision – even his co-director on the first movie, David Lietch, has been trying to recreate that magic in bigger shinier, more star-studded movies like Bullet Train and Deadpool 2, and only got close with the stairwell fight in Atomic Blonde. Any set piece in John Wick Chapter Four would be the best in each of the movies I’ve mentioned. What is truly ridiculous about this is that I don’t even think Chapter Four is the best John Wick – I still think that’s Three – but it still manages to pulverise the idea of the fourquel being the nadir of an action franchise.
Even so, we shouldn’t be greedy. Greed is why Love and Thunder stains Watiti’s CV, greed is why talks of a fifth Lethal Weapon movie has reared its ugly head again. This should be the end of John Wick’s part of his own franchise. There are multiple spin-off options, but Chapter Four simply cannot be topped. Let’s go home, John.
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By Kevin Boyle
(header image via IMDB)