The saga of John Wick — that well-dressed avenger of dead canines — is coming to an end (for the time being) with the upcoming John Wick: Chapter 4. And he’s starring alongside yet another excellent cast of action movie superstars, including Scott Adkins, Hiroyuki Sanada, and the one and only Donnie Yen. (Previous John Wick films found Reeves squaring off against the likes of Mark Dacascos, Yayan Ruhian, and Tiger Chen.)
To date, the John Wick movies have delivered some of Hollywood’s craziest and most intense action sequences, as you would expect from a franchise helmed by a former stuntman. But is a fourth John Wick movie too much of a good thing? Has the sight of a well-dressed assassin dispatching wave after wave of faceless goons with all manner of weapons and martial arts grown stale?
Read on for an assortment of critic reactions to John Wick: Chapter 4, which had its world premier earlier this month.
The most faithful faction of the Wick fandom will undoubtedly be pleased to see their belief that you can’t have too much of a good thing put into practice. Those who appreciated the original for its brutal, sinewy agility have another thing coming: a lumbering, stultifying gargantua of a film willing to kill everything except its darlings.
When Yen, Reeves, and Sanada are onscreen together, their unspoken history becomes tangible and helps shape the most personal arc for John Wick outside of the first film. It’s a testament to the trio’s charisma and chemistry that it’s so easy to buy into their offscreen history with two characters we’re just meeting now.
Yet if this is actually the end of the road, the filmmakers have earned a triumphal march — “earned” because these pictures have self-respect in the age of sloppy and shameless, showing up well-dressed to do a job planned with care and executed with precision. They’ve demonstrated respect for the audience by doing the work of celebrating different cultures for their beauty and strengths, they’ve paid proper tribute to the great films and directors that came before, and they’ve done it with a message that society crumbles when we don’t see eye-to-eye on honour.
Reeves delivers as John Wick yet again. It’s a character I can’t see anyone else playing. He brings this clumsy, sometimes aloof, dangerous, deadpan emotion, and quirky edge to the character. Sometimes you wonder how he’s still alive, then other times you wonder how he hasn’t killed everyone yet.
Were this just any old chapter in the John Wick saga, it’d be fair to call the newest film slightly above average compared to its predecessors — and a testament to how far the franchise has come. But John Wick: Chapter 4 wants to be as monumental and seminal as it is bombastic — aspirations that the feature doesn’t quite manage to achieve despite giving it its best shot.
With each subsequent John Wick film, though, Stahelski and company have further expanded the world in which the series is set, exploring the inner workings of the council of crime lords known as the High Table and the various rules and consequences that regulate behavior in specific settings and situations. They’ve continued to add new fetishistic objects as signifiers of broad ideas — honor, loyalty, professionalism, you name it — as well as flashier sets. And in this gradual development and expansion of the Wickaverse, the filmmakers seem to have lost the thread of what makes the first and, at times, second film in the series work so well.
Filmmakers who over-think their shoot-outs often land on a tone that feels distant, lacking in stakes, and feeling more stylish than substantial. The great action directors figure out how to film combat in a way that doesn’t sacrifice tension for showmanship. The action sequences in John Wick: Chapter 4 are long battles, gun-fu shoot-outs between John and dozens of people who underestimate him, but they have so much momentum that they don’t overstay their welcome.
Reeves iconic assassin has always delivered, but here, the director’s furious and flawless vision, captured impeccably by returning cinematographer Dan Laustsen, exceeds expectations and revels in its neo-noir action thriller roots. The pair turn out a freight train of immaculate and breathtaking set pieces that set a new standard for the series, the franchise, and potentially the industry.
Even when it drags — 169 minutes is a lot of time to fill, even for this masterful crew — the film gamely mixes comedy, action, and drama into one truly satisfying cocktail. If you’re more inclined to wait for streaming, make an exception just this once. Every audacious set piece, costume, and fight scene was clearly, lovingly made for the biggest of all big screens.
Up until this point, audiences have seen Wick rise against the odds stacked against him to survive another day in the underworld. Yet, Stahelski and company manage to up the ante within this action-heavy, high-stakes thriller that will surely keep viewers glued to their seats.
John Wick: Chapter 4 arrives in theaters on March 24, 2023. Watch the trailer below.