I don’t know about your workplace, but mine is thankfully free of interoffice politics. There aren’t any cliques or work BFF’s that try to horde all the power and glory to themselves at the exclusion of anyone that doesn’t fit their criteria. I’ve heard of such places, even within my industry, but having worked at the same place for 28 years, I haven’t been forced to deal with such a thing. I guess I should consider myself lucky, both for having the longevity that I do and for working somewhere people know we all succeed or fail as a group, no individuals. Sadly, over the course of four films, John Wick has had to survive the whims and vendettas of various mobs, contract killers and the High Table. Going into “John Wick: Chapter 4,” I hoped that our hero would finally find the peace and freedom he has killed so many nameless bad guys to achieve, while also entertainingly killing a bunch more nameless bad guys. The body count is high in the film, but does it accomplish its ultimate goal?
John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is trying to free himself from the revenge and obligations of the High Table. He’s been hiding in the underground, protected by the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), since Winston (Ian McShane) shot him off the roof of the Continental Hotel. Wick goes to Morocco to ask the Elder (George Georgiou), who is above the High Table, to grant his freedom. When the Elder refuses, John kills him. The death causes the High Table, under the leadership of the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard) to deconsecrate and demolish the New York Continental and declare Winston persona non grata. Wick has a bounty of tens of millions of dollars put on his head. Heading to Japan, Wick seeks help from the manager of the Osaka Continental, Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada), an old friend of Wick’s. But the High Table sends a team to kill Wick while also pulling another Wick friend, blind assassin Caine (Donnie Yen), out of retirement to track and kill him as well. There is another killer, Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson), along with his trained German Sheppard support animal, that isn’t part of the High Table and is protecting Wick, waiting for the bounty to get big enough to interest him. Winston comes up with an idea to free Wick of the High Table and get the Continental rebuilt, and himself reinstated as manager, but Wick must go through a gauntlet of trained assassins, troops in head-to-toe body armor, and the ever changing politics of the High Table.
Keanu Reeves is, again, a man of few words in “John Wick: Chapter 4.” He lets his fighting and shooting do most of the talking. Reeves is the reason this series works as well as it does. While any leading man could be taught to do the choreography required to film the action scenes, Reeves is able to make the audience care about the fate of John Wick. Wick is a tragic character, doomed to an existence of violence and killing, while only wishing to have his wife and dog back. In case you forgot, or didn’t know, in the first film, Wick’s wife dies of an unnamed illness that takes her without warning. She had arranged for a beagle puppy to be delivered for him to pour his love and grief into after her death. An encounter with some Russian mob guys at a gas station, and their home invasion where the puppy is killed, leads Wick to pick up his guns and start killing again. As several people ask in most of the films, yes, this started because of a puppy. A dog is a big part of the action in “John Wick: Chapter 4” and leads to the development of a new ally.
What most people going to see “John Wick: Chapter 4” are interested in are the action scenes. This sequel delivers the action in spades. Fist fights, shootouts, sword fights and a very long series of falls down a very long set of stairs makes “John Wick: Chapter 4” one of the most action-packed films in history. Even with several long scenes with plot and dialog always feel as if a brawl or shootout could erupt at any moment. Reeves, and what appears to be several hundred stunt performers, put on a ballet of violent mayhem. There are a few moments when, after several people have swung a fist, sword and foot over the top of John Wick’s head, one wonders why they don’t aim lower? And after shooting him numerous times in the torse covered by his Kevlar-infused suit, why don’t they aim for the head? Of course, no one sees a “John Wick” film because of the logic of the action. The audience wants to see a bunch of bad guys dispatched in numerous entertaining ways, especially the one henchman that is the biggest thorn in Wick’s side. On that level, “John Wick: Chapter 4” delivers.
I suppose the question that could be asked about “John Wick: Chapter 4” and the entire film series is what does it all mean? What has Wick accomplished with all the death he’s inflicted on the world? Is it a better place due to the number of people willing to take a life being eliminated from it? Is the cheapness of life in the “John Wick” universe supposed to make the audience reconsider how we look at others and how we take them for granted? I guess there’s a philosophical debate to be had about what the ”John Wick” movies mean within our society. The amplification of violence to the point of it being mind-numbing for the audience may bring out the pop culture and entertainment commentators to complain about the influence of violent media on society. This despite numerous studies that find no correlation between violent entertainment and crime. A troubled person is going to do something horrific whether he’s watched the “John Wick” films or not. Some people are just broken.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” is rated R for pervasive strong violence and some language. I could not begin to list all the ways people are killed in the film. In a nutshell, they are shot, stabbed and, in probably the most graphic death, land on their head after being thrown off a balcony. They also are struck by cars, sending them flying through the air, and killed by a trained attack dog. Foul language is relatively scattered with limited uses of the “F-bomb.”
I have enjoyed all the “John Wick” films. The first established the bare bones of Wick’s assassins’ world. The universe has grown and become more complex from film to film. One wonders just how many hired killers there are in the world as the films have shown text messaging networks and, in the fourth film, a radio station, all the hit people are connected to. Also, considering the number of deaths in these movies, the recruitment effort must be enormous to keep their numbers up. As we see wave after wave of killers coming after Wick and being neutralized in short order, I can’t imagine there being much incentive to train for a career in assassination, unless they include health, vision and dental insurance at no cost, but that seems unlikely. However, this movie isn’t created for the characters in it, it is meant for the audience to enjoy all 169 minutes of it, including a post-credits scene for the first time in the series. Fans of the series will find no complaint about this possibly final installment.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” gets five stars out of five.
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