Nine years after John Wick became a breakout hit fueled entirely by word of mouth and newly rediscovered affection for Keanu Reeves, the story of the widowed assassin avenging his dog comes to a phrenetic, satisfying end.
At an immense 169 minutes, John Wick: Chapter 4 is the longest entry into the franchise, and the best film since the first, with an absolutely insane climax that pays off a decade of careful worldbuilding with a no-guts-no-glory action set piece that shames every other contemporary Hollywood action movie. There is a lot of action and a surprising amount of story packed into the embiggened runtime, which makes finding a good place for a bathroom break tough, but for sure, be in your seat for the final hour of the film, because that is when all of John Wick’s chickens come home to roost.
Chapter 4 picks up shortly after the events of Chapter 3, with Winston (Ian McShane) and his concierge, Charon (the late Lance Reddick), feeling the consequences of aiding John, and John himself once again on the run. A trip to Osaka reunites him with (another) old friend, Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada), who runs the Continental Hotel there. Koji’s concierge is his daughter, Akira (Rina Sawayama, acquitting herself extremely well), another too-cool-for-school type, and there John attempts to rest. Nothing ever goes well for him, though, and shortly he is on the run from a tracker known as “Mr. Nobody” (Shamier Anderson), and (yet another) old friend, Caine (Donnie Yen), a blind assassin lured out of retirement by this chapter’s big bad, the Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard), a total prick.
De Gramont is the best villain the franchise has conjured since Josef Tarasov killed a puppy, and Skarsgard is equally suave and smooth and preposterous as the Marquis. He fits into the John Wick universe perfectly, playing de Gramont with a proud sneer that will have you dreaming of the moment John Wick permanently wipes it off his face. He is a formidable foe, though, with his own network and ability to run John to ground unlike any of the others who have tried—and failed—to get rid of him, yet there is something sniveling in de Gramont, the same kind of failson energy as Josef, that undermines all his peacocking as a member of the High Table.
Aligning the High Table with actual aristocracy is a nice touch, as it firmly draws the line between the “leisure class” of shotcallers in this universe, and the “working class” assassins like John, Caine, and Mr. Nobody, who actually take care of business. The first film is laced with dread as John returns to his assassin roots to avenge poor dead Daisy, but the further he gets from his fellow working assassins, the less “Baba Yaga” seems to impress and intimidate the members of his underground assassin world—to them, John Wick is just another hammer in the toolbox. But that dread returns throughout Chapter 4 as John closes in on de Gramont, and that man is revealed as just another foolish boy who challenged a force he did not understand.
John Wick has always been heavy on style and light on theme, and that holds true here, as Chapter 4 is eye-poppingly GORGEOUS—there is a dizzying single-take scene that will make your eyes water—but a little clumsy as it approaches resolution. The action sequences and fight choreography cannot be faulted, especially an all-out manhunt that ensues through the streets of Paris, cleverly designed like a live-action game of Frogger, but the film’s central weakness is thematic shallowness. Craft-wise and plot-wise, everything has been building to this grand standoff between John and the High Table, but story-wise, things do not come together quite so gracefully. It’s a nitpick, really, in a film so viscerally satisfying, but the emotional beats don’t land as cleanly as John’s punches.
This is a culmination of not only John’s character arc, from lonely widower to bitter assassin trying to claw his way out of a trap, but also filmmaker Chad Stahelski’s growth from stunt man to top-tier action director, and Keanu Reeves’ career as an action star. Keanu’s quality of suggestive sadness continues to serve John well, especially here as he makes his last stand for freedom, and it is entirely down to Keanu’s ability to play on audience affection to sell his characters’ emotions that makes the narrative climax of Chapter 4 work. Another actor in the same scene wouldn’t get the same mileage out of a single word that Keanu can with one breathy exhale.
Chapter 4 packs in everything we love about John Wick, from high style to mysterious assassins to dogs to car chases to foot chases to a Looney Tunes level of gunplay. It’s the whole kitchen sink tossed on fire into oncoming traffic, and it is f-cking awesome.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is exclusively in theaters from March 24, 2023. Nothing bad happens to the dog.