Moderately priced action franchises used to be the theatrical norm — think Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Under Siege, and others — but these days studios tend to think they need to spend money to make money. And they usually spend it on large amounts of CG “content.” (Thanks Disney!) The answer for some is to spend even less and go the DTV action route, but thankfully for genre fans there’s at least one studio smart enough to know a good theatrical bet when they have it. 2014’s John Wick got a masterful glow-up in 2017 from Lionsgate and another sequel in 2019, and it’s all culminated in John Wick: Chapter 4. And hyperbole be damned, it’s a goddamn masterpiece and possibly the best action film of the decade.
After being shot by his good friend Winston (Ian McShane) and left for dead, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has been taken in by a fellow outcast, the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne). Not one to slink away from his problems, Wick kicks off his revenge/redemption tour with a deadly visit to the Elder to retrieve his wedding ring before heading to see one of his few remaining friends in Osaka, Japan. Osaka Continental manager Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada) offers him aid, despite the protestations of his daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama), and the High Table immediately sends in a kill squad to punish the manager and deconsecrate the hotel.
Things only escalate from there, and every second of it is glorious.
Further plot points, and there are several, should be experienced first-hand, but suffice to say all 169-minutes of John Wick: Chapter 4 are absolute nirvana for action fans. If you’re worried that a franchise built around a dude killing baddies with constant head shots and sharp objects might grow stale, well you can put those concerns in the trash. Director Chad Stahelski and some very special friends keep every set-piece fresh, exciting, and entertaining as hell.
There are enough action sequences here for five separate movies, and Stahelski, cinematographer Dan Laustsen, production designer Kevin Kavanaugh, and the rest of the crew ensure that each feels distinct in its personality and/or location. The Osaka Continental siege is a mini epic in its own right delivering brutal beatdowns and gun fights. A fun five-card draw set-piece explodes throughout a dance club (complete with dancers undeterred by the gun play). A stunning drone shot captures a multi-room shootout complete with fire-spewing shotguns from above. A cheer-worthy nod to Walter Hill’s The Warriors spreads action brilliance across Paris with spectacular standouts around the Arc de Triomphe and the stairs of Sacré-Coeur. We get the expected visual effects, especially with some of the vehicular action, but these aren’t ugly Marvel green screens — they’re mostly unforgettable locales built and decimated for the film itself, real places that bring a fantastical epic to life. Like Wick himself, John Wick: Chapter 4 just keeps moving and pulling viewers from one stunner to the next, but the action is only half the fun here as the cast is a gift from the gods for action movie junkies.
Reeves is getting up there, but the guy still puts in the work and it shows. He’s maybe a little slower and creakier, but it’s an opportunity for Wick to balance his skills with creativity and opportunity. His friends and foes in John Wick: Chapter 4 outshine even the heavy hitters from part three (Mark Dacascos, Yayan Ruhian, and Cecep Arif Rahman) in the form of Donnie Yen, Marko Zaror, and Scott Adkins. All three show off their chops in beautiful ways. Adkins dons a fat suit — a right of passage previously endured by Yen for 2020’s Enter the Fat Dragon — for a wildly entertaining turn as a villain (whose purple suit is a great nod to Sammo Hung’s villain from SPL), and he still moves like lightning despite the extra pounds. Newcomers Sawayama and Shamier Anderson make their immediate marks too that will leave you hoping they get their own lead action roles soon as they show off both acting skills and action know-how.
It’s Yen, though, who finally gets a fantastic character in a Hollywood action film with depth, arc, and numerous opportunities to showcase his exquisite and graceful fight skills. He’s once again playing a blind man (thanks Disney!), but John Wick: Chapter 4 gives Caine an arc and emotional connections that land right out of the gate making him a complicated and charismatic character. Yen threatens to take over the film with a guy we can’t help but love between his banter and his beatdowns. His movements are mesmerizing, he’s charming as hell, and you should immediately rush home and start marathoning his filmography. (Hell, watch Adkins’ movies too!)
The non-fighting cast are no slouches either as Lance Reddick returns one last time as the New York Continental’s head concierge, Clancy Brown plays the mysteriously named Harbinger, and Bill Skarsgård brings his wicked A-game as the big bad Marquis. John Wick: Chapter 4 is far removed from the “real world” of the first film, but immensely skilled actors like these help ground it all to the point that we buy into this unreal world all the same. Bulletproof suits? Check. Fights that threaten exhaustion in both characters and audiences? Check. A dense criminal hierarchy woven through with Italian, Middle Eastern, and Latin nomenclature? Check. Every beat, every character, every shot — it’s fucking magic, people, and the best John Wick yet.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is an epic, and there’s just no denial on that count. It feels big as it jumps around the globe, but more than that, the action and visuals are captured with an eye for beauty, spectacle, and impact. Think the meticulously crafted fights of The Raid 2, the joyful exuberance of RRR, the absolute awe of Mad Max: Fury Road, but it’s all its own thing too. It’s a showcase for Stahelski’s vision, an ongoing riff on heroic bloodshed films, a cinematic adaptation of the Sisyphus myth, an incredibly fun movie aware of its own silliness — it’s the action genre evolved.