As I imagine many movie-goers will/have, I initially balked when learning about the two hour and 49 minute runtime of director Chad Stahelski’s John Wick: Chapter 4. This is partly because any film that rounds up to three hours is automatically rendered a kind of gamble, but also because I am of the opinion that John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, while great overall, is a tad overlong. Discovering in recent weeks that the sequel is nearly 40 minutes longer, I immediately had concerns.
John Wick: Chapter 4
Release Date: March 24, 2023
Directed By: Chad Stahelski
Written By: Shay Hatten and Michael Finch
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Hiroyuki Sanada, Bill Skarsgård, Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane, Lance Riddick, and Scott Adkins
Runtime: 169 minutes
These concerns stayed with me after the lights dimmed in the theater and the film began – the story beginning with John Wick (Keanu Reeves) having fully recovered from being shot and falling off of a roof. As a bit of backtracking is done, memories are jogged, exposition is delivered, and new antagonists are introduced, things start off on the slow side… but then a gear shift occurs when the action (literally) arrives in Japan. The titular assassin, on a mission of vengeance against the mythical and sinister High Table, takes haven at the Osaka Continental. The ex-communicated killer has the support of the hotel’s manager (Hiroyuki Sanada), but that means exactly nothing as far as rules are concerned when the High Table’s armored soldiers roll in alongside a special hired gun: the blind, bespoke Caine (Donnie Yen). As an extend battle plays out – with everything from an army of archers raining down arrows, to John cracking skulls with nunchaku, to Caine laying traps with motion sensing doorbells – we are provided the most important first act reminder of all, which is that John Wick movies are fucking awesome.
Two hours and 49 minutes may sound like an exhausting amount of John Wick, but John Wick: Chapter 4 earns every second of its epic runtime, and there’s a strong argument to be made that it’s the best of the sequels.
John Wick: Chapter 4's smart pacing means the mind-blowing fights are always exciting.
The biggest issue that I have with John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is the fact that there is a big energy drop off in the second act as the protagonist manages to escape from New York City to Casablanca, Morocco, but the sequel has much stronger pacing – beginning with the fact that it lets the engine rev up before slamming its foot on the gas. Screenwriters Shay Hatten and Michael Finch equip the film with a strong structure that sees John Wick work to complete side missions on his way to accomplishing his ultimate goal (a duel with the High Table’s Marquis, played by Bill Skarsgård), and while this simple but well-executed plotting unfurls, there are, of course, brilliant opportunities for the franchise’s trademark insane action.
Phenomenal as the assault on the Osaka Continental is, it really is just a warmup for the excellence to come, but what’s vital to the success of the movie is that it never wears you out. Effective and engaging worldbuilding/politics are employed whenever it’s necessary to lower heart rates after a wild round of gun fu, and the way that the third act plays out is fantastic. Without giving away too much, John Wick: Chapter 4 manages to feature both the craziest continuous action sequence in the franchise as well as a final showdown that is slow, intense and intimate.
All of John Wick: Chapter 4's stars are great, but the lightning hands of Donnie Yen make him the MVP.
The film is built on a strong foundation between the solid script and the honed creative instincts of Chad Stahelski, but the craft and skill of the performers make it sing – including both the standout stars and the committed members of the 87eleven stunt team. Even after four of these movies it’s still hard not to be in awe of everything that Keanu Reeves brings to the role of John Wick, physically and emotionally, and once again in this series he is surrounded by exceptional talent. As you watch Donnie Yen as Caine, it’s hard to fathom how a human being can move so fast, and also demonstrating exceptional talent are Shamier Anderson, Hiroyuki Sanada and big screen newcomer Rina Sawayama, who plays Sanada’s character’s daughter and unleashes some jaw dropping moves protecting the Osaka Continental.
Again being mindful of spoilers, I will also add that John Wick’s second act fight with a gangster named is Killa is nothing like what anybody could have expected from Keanu Reeves battling Scott Adkins, but it’s also one of the most memorable in the franchise to date.
It’s also not just the ass kickers who get to shine. There admittedly aren’t a great number of dimensions to be found or big arcs to trace with their characters, but franchise stalwarts Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane and Lance Riddick all provide their bravado, flair, and prestige that brings extra, special energy to the John Wick world. Bill Skarsgård as the ruthless Marquis shows that he doesn’t need to be wearing clown makeup to provide chill-inducing sinister vibes – he can do it with nothing more than a calm strut and an hourglass.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is exactly the spectacle-filled epic that it needs to be.
Expectations for the John Wick movies have evolved greatly since the launch of the series with the story of a retired assassin looking for revenge against the people who killed his dog and stole his car. With each film, the stakes have been effectively raised, the breadth of the world has expanded, and the scope of the action has grown. That’s not an easy trend to sustain by a third sequel, but John Wick: Chapter 4 carries the weight of all of that and sprints. The characters are enthralling and fun, and the variety of set pieces are audacious in style and feature mind boggling physicality by the performers. It’s everything that fans could want out of it.