Artistic, balletic and acrobatic violence separates the “John Wick” franchise from other action/crime/thrillers. That ritual continues as the hitman’s hitman discovers friends can be foes and foes can be friends.
John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a badass, hired killer. He works under the mandates of a clandestine council, “The High Table.” The group of 12 crime lords reigns over the underworld’s most ruthless paid killers. Wick is at odds with the governing body, shunning protocols and ignoring ultimatums. This time he’s gone too far. The Table has put a bounty on his head. Assassins can make millions murdering him.
Old friends aid and hide him. The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), head of a covert intelligence network, gives him tips. The proprietor (Ian McShane) and concierge (Lance Reddick) of the New York Continental Hotel, a lair and safe haven for assassins, protect him.
Wick seeks refuge with his old ally Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada, “Bullet Train”) at his Osaka Continental Hotel, against the man’s daughter’s (Rina Sawayama) better judgement. Even Wick’s fellow hatchet man Caine (Donnie Yen, “Ip Man”) hunts him. Caine: “You’re going to die.” Wick: ‘Maybe not.” That betrayal was coerced by The Table’s relentlessly evil emissary Marquis (Bill Skarsgärd), who continuously ups the bounty – $18 million to $40 million. He’ll kill anyone who gets in his way.
Seconds into this chapter people are killed. Minutes into the movie ingeniously choreographed ﬁght scenes portend what’s to come. The script by Shay Hatten and Michael Finch adds complication on top of complication. Murders on murders. Bullets fly nonstop. Fist ﬁghts don’t end until someone is pummeled to death.
Normally this kind of nonstop savagery would become overbearingly repulsive. But as directed by Chad Stahelski, who helmed previous “Wick” chapters and was a stuntman, the visuals are so heady, the tumbles, punches, flips and gunﬁghts so over the top viewers will sit in amazement laughing nervously. They expect no less from this series, and this episode delivers in the most imaginative ways.
The settings range from New York, Jordan and Japan to Berlin and Paris. The geographic scope is so vast it competes with the international locations in “Mission Impossible” and James Bond ﬁlms. That global flair should entice American, European, Middle East and especially Asian markets where Yen and Sanada are superstars.
Sequences in an airplane hangarsized Berlin disco where patrons dance wildly as a gun/ﬁst ﬁght erupts are electric. Overhead shots when Wick battles adversaries through rooms in a building catch the eye. Car chases, guns blazing and auto crashes on streets around the Arc de Triomphe are mind blowing. But the astonishing carnage truly crescendos during the bloodbath on the 200-plus steps leading up to the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. That’s the wow moment. The money shot. That’s when the direction, photography, stunts and acting show off and hit nirvana.
The emotional struggles between the characters run deep. When the betrayals between friends and col- leagues look like they will be the centerpiece, the script throws a curve ball. A duel is proposed, with strict rules: “Failure to meet at sunrise will result in execution.” This Burr-Hamilton plot device threads all the chaos together and herds it into one and provided an extra momentum that will reenergize audiences and take their minds off the ﬁlm’s two-hour, 49-minute length (editor Nathan Orloff).
The evocative settings are interesting to watch because the interiors and exteriors (production design Kevin Kavanaugh, “The Dark Knight Rises”) are magniﬁcent, the palette of colors flourish (art directors Emil Birk, Gilles Boillot, Karim Kheir) and the characters parade around in slick, tailored bulletproof suits (Paco Delgado, “Les Misérables”). The cinematography (Dan Lausten, “The Shape of Water”) meticulously frames everything.
Each actor stands out but also blends in, creating a twisted group dynamic that brands the ﬁlm. Reeves, Yen and Sanada are obvious superstars. Shamier Anderson (“Dear White People”) as the mysterious Tracker, an ambivalent interloper with a trusty German Shepherd, adds a humanizing factor to the mayhem. Sawayama, as Shimazu’s daughter Akira, is mesmerizing in a ﬁght scene where she mounts a behemoth assassin, knives in hands, stabbing him as he climbs steps until she pierces his neck delivering the coup de grâce.
“JWC4” is an elaborately choregraphed, gorgeously crafted slaughter fest. A bloodthirsty spectacle. A circus of scoundrels ﬁghting to the death in the most gracefully violent ways.