Review: John Wick: Chapter 4
On the road again.
Many things happen in the nearly three hours it takes the new John Wick movie to unfurl. Many, many things. Among them:
There's a spectacular eruption of kung fu, gun fu, car fu, and WTF fu as our man Wick (Keanu Reeves) circles around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, desperately wrestling the wheel of a careening muscle car whose driver's side door has been ripped off and windshield blown out while bullets and bodies fly all around him. This is truly an incredible scene, packed with the sort of uproarious detail that action-mad Wickophiles have come to savor.
A little later, also in Paris, Wick is wearily making his way up the 200-some stone steps leading to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Montmartre when, suddenly, a battalion of bad guys swarms out and hurls him back down those steps, watching appreciatively as he bumps and rolls down to the bottom. There, he somehow gets on his feet again and comes charging back up at his attackers, maximum damage clearly foremost in his mind. This is one of the most amazing stunt sequences I've ever seen at the movies, reminiscent in a more maximal way of the best of the Bourne films and even George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road.
I could go on about the delicious little glimpses of over-the-top mayhem to which we're treated in this movie: Wick bracing a luckless thug's head on a table while he whales away at it with a set of nunchucks; a newbie named Akira (Rina Sawayama) hanging onto the back of a fleeing psychopath as he crawls up a staircase and plunging a pair of long knives into him at each step.
This is top-drawer pandemonium, whipped up by a gifted director (stunt king Chad Stahelski) and a highly colorful cast. Returning to the series along with Reeves are Ian McShane as Winston, the owner of the New York branch of the Continental Hotel, that iconic hostelry for globe-trotting hitmen; Lance Reddick as Charon, the Continental's silky concierge; and Laurence Fishburne as the Bowery King, head of a secret intelligence service composed of homeless street people. There are also several new personnel on hand who really enliven the franchise. Bill Skarsgård (Pennywise the killer clown in the It movies) is wonderfully snotty as the Marquis de Gramont, an eccentrically tailored emissary from the mysterious High Table, that league of faceless crime lords that rules the international underworld. And veteran Japanese action star Hiroyuki Sanada (Army of The Dead, Bullet Train) is a serenely appealing Shimazu, owner of the Osaka outpost of the Continental (and father of Akira, who's also a death-dealing archer-assassin). Props as well to Shamier Anderson, who, with his alarmingly angry dog, adds ambiguous menace to the story as a peripatetic tracker who calls himself Nobody.
But the most charismatic addition to the Wick universe is Hong Kong MMA master Donnie Yen, star of the phenomenally successful Ip Man movies (and veteran of such US films as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and xXx: The Return of Xander Cage). Yen's character, a blind assassin named Caine, is being compelled to kill John Wick; but he respects the man as a fellow pro, and that complicates things. Yen has such a chill screen presence that he effortlessly dominates most of his scenes, and he's so fast with his fists and feet (and canes, swords, and guns) that surrender would seem to be any enemy's only realistic option. ("I'll be waiting for you," he tells one of them, unreassuringly.)
As the movie begins, John Wick is still on the run for that unauthorized killing of a High Table big shot he committed back in Chapter 2. There's still a hit contract on his head—it's vaulting up toward $20 million now—and as the movie opens we see him being pursued through the Jordanian desert, on horseback, by three bad guys in search of a major payday. (Unfortunately, they don't live long enough to get their hopes up.) From there, the story makes stops in Paris, Osaka, and Berlin—where we drop by a wildly bacchanalian nightclub and meet a huge, gold-toothed gentleman in a purple suit named Klaus (Scott Adkins). There's also an extended crime family of Belarusian gypsies and occasional flashes of martial-artsy in-jokes (down in the Paris metro we notice that one of the stops is Wuxia Station). And there's more shooting and kicking and hellbent driving than could be crammed into any two or three normal action flicks. (Wick 4 offers sufficient grounds on its own to institute an Oscar category for Hollywood stunt performers.)
Meanwhile, back in New York, the weaselly Marquis de Gramont is threatening to have his stooges shut down and "deconsecrate" the Continental. Wait'll Wick hears about this.
"I'm going to kill them," he tells Winston a little later.
"You can't kill everyone," Winston says.
I didn't catch Wick's reply.