It all started when a retired hitman John Wick’s beloved dog was killed when gangsters broke into his home. He is thrust back into the world of assassins and must seek revenge on those who wronged him until Chapter 4.
The un-retired assassin does indeed dive into the City of Lights, Paris, in the inventive and thrilling “John Wick: Chapter 4,” a sequel that elevates and expands the franchise. The fourth installment is more stylish, elegant, and bonkers – like Paris.
When we last saw Wick, he was half dead in the gutter after being shot and tumbling several stories off the Hotel Continental in New York. He was on the blacklist with a $14 million price on his head. Seems inflation had even hit this franchise as the bounty swells to $40 million by the end of part four.
As always played with monosyllabic and brooding intensity by Keanu Reeves, Wick leaves his customary trail of death, but there’s a shift here. So often the prey in the previous movies, Wick is on the offense in the fourth, taking his demands directly to The High Table, the group of shadowy crime lords that keep order.
This time, the Table’s sadistic frontman is a dandy called the Marquis, played with coiled menace by Bill Skarsgard, who spouts things like, “Second chances are the refuge of men who fail.” But he’s a secret coward, so feel free to boo loudly.
The nine-fingered Wick wants to end his nightmare, naturally, by killing everyone. However, his too-cool frenemy, Ian McShane’s Winston, challenges him to think differently, “Have you learned nothing?” he asks the man who, to be honest, he shot in the last movie. “You’ll run out of bullets before they run out of heads.”
Returning writer Shay Hatten and co-writer Michael Finch have devised a possible solution for Wick: Win an old-fashioned duel with the Marquis. Win and be free; lose and be buried.
Not so fast, of course. Along the way, Wick must somehow handle the blind martial arts master Caine, played by Donnie Yen, bringing humor and verve to a fighter tasked with either slaying his one-time friend or having his daughter killed.
There’s also Killa, a jumbo-sized card shark played by martial arts star Scott Adkins, and The Tracker, a talented bounty hunter played by Shamier Anderson. Finally, don’t forget a swarm of Paris-based amateur bounty hunters and armored ninjas who seem as plentiful as the city’s baguettes.
All the touches you expect from a Wick flick are here – a calm dog, hand-to-hand combat amid glass display cases, candles and Christian iconography, galloping horses, the screech of metal swords, and a new way to hurt someone, in this case, a single playing card. We visited Germany and Japan and ended up in France, even going to a disused subway platform.
Returning director Chad Stahelski loves combining neon with gloom and now has the budget to rent space in the Louvre. Of the 14 action sequences – yes, 14 – a few are mind-blowing, like a fight in the middle of the traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe and a drone capturing a complicated set piece in a building involving what is being called a dragon’s breath shotgun. Repeating that last bit: Dragon’s breath shotgun.
If there was a bit of a slog through would-be assassins in “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” – you know, shoot, stab, repeat – there is none here. One sequence on a set of outdoor stairs in Paris is almost riotously funny as knives and guns blast away, while the filmmakers add water and fire to a nightclub rave scene that puts clueless dancers next to axe-throwing murderers.
A shout-out to costume designer Paco Delgado, who has outfitted the baddie shooters in light-colored three-piece suits and combat boots, and the executive baddies in fitted elegance with extravagant cravat-style ties. One of the film’s saddest parts is saying goodbye to Lance Reddick , who played Continental Hotel concierge Charon and died on the eve of the movie’s debut.
How does this all end? Actually, on something of a deflating note. Earlier in the film, Wick’s Japan-based friend Shimazu – played awesomely by Hiroyuki Sanada – had asked a question that eternally hangs over this franchise: “Have you given any thought to how this ends?”
This chapter ends in death, of course. But that’s also how it lives.