“John Wick: Chapter 4” delivers on the ballet of bullets and fiesta of firearms you expect while also successfully showcasing the dynamic, reluctantly unretired title hitman as a real underdog.
And as the saying goes: This dog can hunt.
Keanu Reeves reteams with director Chad Stahelski for one of the better “Wick” films in the consistently impressive action franchise. The hard-luck antihero again battles fellow assassins and ambitious power players all over the world in fantastic action scenes, and “Chapter 4” (★★★½ out of four; rated R; in theaters Friday) also unfurls a bit of Wick’s past so we root for him a little more, especially when the chips are down.
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The newest “John Wick” doesn’t bother catching you up but it’s pretty straightforward: Wick was roped back into the hitman game when his puppy was murdered (“John Wick”), killed a rival on the “consecrated” grounds of the New York Continental Hotel (“Chapter 2”) – a major no-no – and had a multimillion-dollar bounty put on his head (“Chapter 3”).
“Chapter 4” begins with John done running and taking the fight to the High Table, the shadowy group of global crime lords. He kills one of their elders, which puts him on the radar of the Marquis (Bill Skarsgård). This young and vicious French emissary raises the bounty and sends a variety of killers after Wick, from the mysterious Tracker (Shamier Anderson) to one of Wick’s oldest friends, blind martial-arts master Caine (Donnie Yen).
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Seeing his only chance for freedom from the Table, Wick challenges the Marquis to a duel in Paris, though just getting to the final showdown takes a herculean effort. Fortunately, our main man is decked out in a kevlar suit plus has an endless supply of ammunition, a penchant for head shots (for real, no one’s as obsessed with deadly follow-through) and a decent handle on nunchucks.
Even for an action-movie lover, 169 minutes of “Chapter 4” is a smidge much: You’d never call a “Wick” film chatty but the middle lags between the bullet-ridden onslaughts. Not that one has to wait long for the next epic action sequence. This one is chock-full of bangers, including a festival of samurai swords in a Japanese hotel, a waterfall-filled throwdown in a German nightclub, one particularly cool fight from a nifty floorplan view where Wick lights people up with fire bullets, and a most excellent and electrifying traffic jam at the Arc de Triomphe.
The casting is as on point as the momentous brawls. Ian McShane (as NYC Continental owner Winston) and Laurence Fishburne (as the Bowery King) both bring a comedic edge as returning Wick allies while the late Lance Reddick, who made everything he was in better, provides wise words yet again as Winston’s right-hand concierge Charon.
As for the fresh faces, Yen brings a cool cockiness to Caine, Scott Adkins is a hoot as the portly but still deadly ex-assassin Killa, and Skarsgård is an antagonistic gem as the sadistic and despicable Marquis.
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But, of course, it’s Reeves who fuels these movies, giving Wick the usual world-weary charm but with a knowing depth. There’s a hitman “Christmas Carol” conceit at play, as Wick is forced to revisit his past, thanks to Caine’s return, sees almost a present-day version of himself with Tracker (complete with a canine partner) and has a look at his future if he can’t escape the Table’s clutches in Harbinger (Clancy Brown), the aging man overseeing Wick’s challenge to the Marquis.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” definitely satisfies on an action-packed level and also makes good on some killer food for thought.