In 'John Wick: Chapter 4,' Keanu Reeves shines, but the script is painful
The latest "John Wick" film sees the assassin shoot, stab, and punch his way across the world.
The script and dialogue are painful, but Keanu Reeves shines in its flawless action scenes.
From one-take fights to Reeves repeatedly throwing himself down stairs, it's a nonstop ride.
You'd think "John Wick" director Chad Stahelski would have run out of ways to keep the franchise's fight scenes feel fresh after three films of Keanu Reeves throwing himself through glass walls, getting thrown off of balconies, and generally getting the living snot repeatedly beaten out of him. But you'd be mistaken.
"John Wick: Chapter 4" sees the titular retired hitman try to finally free himself of the High Table, the organization that rules the criminal underworld, after being pulled back into the fray following the death of his wife and his puppy in the first film. He also has to contend with the Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), who wants to take New York for himself.
It's a very muddled script that throws the action from one side of the world to the other on a moment's notice, while 90% of the characters speak in ominous proverbs and metaphors to add some extra gravitas to the already over-the-top action.
But let's be honest, no one's coming to watch a "John Wick" movie for Oscar-worthy dialogue and profound conversation.
The audience is here to see Reeves battle hordes of goons with his signature gun-fu flair as an artist of death.
It says a lot that these stunts don't feel tiresome four films into the franchise, whether it's an uphill battle on the steps of Rue Foyatier in Paris, or a brutal nightclub brawl against Scott Adkins' hulking German gangster, Killa.
Stahelski constantly aims to up the action from the previous film, and it's fair to say that he succeeds with "John Wick: Chapter 4." And he does so with slick visuals and unique camera shots that make these fight scenes pop right off of the screen — like one sequence involving a dragon's breath shotgun that has to be seen to be believed.
One early standout sequence sees Akira (Rina Sawayama) and her father Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada) defend the Osaka Continental Hotel from the Marquis' forces, and it's a gorgeously neon-drenched affair. However, it's criminal that Sawayama and Sanada only get the spotlight for such a brief moment because it would've been great to see them have more prominent roles in the story.
Thankfully, Reeves has an interesting dynamic with Donnie Yen's blind assassin, Caine, and the Tracker (Shamier Anderson). These two hitmen just about make up for Sawayama and Sanada's glaring omission after the opening act. Caine is a tortured assassin, much like Mr. Wick, and it's those similarities that will instantly win audiences over. Meanwhile, the Tracker wants to keep Wick alive as long as possible to up the price on his head so he can kill him himself.
Bill Skarsgård's impeccably dressed villain is a particularly boring choice for the sequel, as he speaks a lot about being better than everybody else and wanting to kill Wick, while actually being pretty useless.
Underwhelming big bad aside, the main problem with "Chapter 4" is its runtime. The wild action sequences are bonkers and will have the audience's jaws on the floor, but the story is unnecessarily dragged out to accommodate some of the longer fights. It just needed to be more direct, rather than spending a lot of the runtime with Wick flitting around trying to convince people to side with him rather than the High Table.
The franchise's slick charm has worn off a little. The first movie was tantalizingly mysterious because we only got a glimpse of the darker underworld, but the story has grown so big that it doesn't feel as special as it should.
It's still a fun ride, but a tighter script and a shorter runtime would have elevated "John Wick: Chapter 4" further.
"John Wick: Chapter 4" is in theaters now.
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