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Friday, March 01, 2024
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Photo courtesy of Lionsgate Films.

‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ is a breath-taking bullseye

Written by Micheal Finch and Shay Hatten, and directed by Chad Stahelski, "John Wick: Chapter 4" is one of the franchise's best movies. The film features a fantastic ensemble cast, incredible fight choreography and breathtaking set pieces that elevate the franchise to the next level.

"John Wick: Chapter 4" picks up after the events of Chapter 3 as John Wick (Keanu Reeves) continues to fight for his freedom after breaking the rules of the assassin underworld by killing someone in the Continental, which serves as a safe haven for assassins in Chapter 2. As Wick rampages through the assassin underworld, his actions create instability among the underworld leaders known as the High Table, forcing the Table to give all its resources to the Marchese de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård) to kill Wick once and for all.

By the franchise's fourth film, one would think the series might begin to feel old, but this movie never does. Stahelski continues to find fresh ideas that never deviate too far from the first movie he and Reeves made in 2018. Stahelski is a former stuntman and stunt-coordinator who worked on films like "The Matrix" doubling for Keanu Reeves, where their friendship began. The advantage Stahelski has over other directors is his understanding of how to capture and build an action sequence.

For example, the Jason Bourne franchise was a great series for its time, but the movie’s action relied heavily on shaky cam and quick cuts. By the time “The Bourne Supremacy” was released, the average scene lasted only 1.9 seconds before a cut occurred. Quick cuts and shaky cam have forever plagued modern action films, as this style of action is easy to do and requires little effort. These techniques harm the viewing experience, as the audience can easily become disorientated in the fight. 

At no point in this film does the camera shake or resort to quick cuts, sparing the viewer from becoming nauseous. Rather, the cinematographer captures most action with long takes and only cuts to transition between phases of the fight. This allows for the action sequence to tell a story like an orchestra playing a melody; the piece tells a story so, when the ending approaches, the orchestra comes to a crescendo, and the audience is left satisfied and filled with emotion. An action sequence from this movie does the same by allowing the fight to tell a story — each fight scene can always come to a satisfying crescendo.

The reason the John Wick franchise manages to craft such exhilarating action set pieces while other blockbusters fail is because of the dedication and care the cast and crew share for the franchise. Training for this film lasted over three months, with Reeves learning to use nunchucks for his stunts. The amount of time and effort dedicated to capturing the action sequences in this franchise is considerably longer in comparison to other modern action films, and this continues to pay off for the franchise.

In addition to providing top-notch action, the franchise excels at immersing the audience in its plot by steadily expanding on its assassin lore — and this chapter continues that trend. The world of John Wick has always been presented in a stylish, satisfying and exciting way that carries enough flair to keep the audience invested without over-explaining the franchise's rules. The fourth installment can best be described as a kaleidoscope, with each set piece and action sequence having its own collection of colors, enemy types and music that combine to form a beautiful picture.

Reeves does a fantastic job playing Wick, just as he has done in the previous films. Reeves brings a calm, collected, well-respected and calculating character to life. The one noticeable change in this film compared to the others is how Reeves has begun to portray his character's growing age. The audience sees some weaknesses and fears in Wick as he grows tired during fights and is put in near-death situations more than once. Reeves does a great job demonstrating the risk his character may face if he continues his work against the High Table.

A new character added to the franchise is Caine, played by Donnie Yen. Caine is a hitman working under the High Table who is forced out of retirement to kill his old friend Wick. Yen is no stranger to action films, as he was famously trained by Ip Chun in martial arts and has starred in martial arts films like "Ip Man." He works well with Reeves on-screen and does a fantastic job showing his inner turmoil as he must battle a well-respected friend.

Skarsgård, who played Pennywise in "It" (2017), again proves he is a master at playing the villain. Both the acting and writing create a foil character to Wick, as the Marchese de Gramont is arrogant, impatient and respects only himself. Skarsgård conveys his character's lack of respect for others by showing his discontent and apathy in conversations through timed eye rolls and inflections when speaking. One of my few complaints about the movie is that Skarsgård lacks any action. Although he does a great job playing his character, the Marchese de Gramont never comes off as being formidable in the franchise.

Another minor complaint with this film is that it requires a high suspension of disbelief. With Wick falling from buildings, getting hit by cars and taking punches to the face, the film sometimes demands the audience suspend their disbelief a little too much. To a certain extent, the John Wick franchise has usually maintained a more grounded feel, and this film sometimes breaks that trend. Although, the payoff is one of the franchise's best action sequences, so it isn't the worst trade-off.

"John Wick: Chapter 4" is a masterclass in action filmmaking with some of the best fight sequences in modern cinema. If you have the time, the film is well worth the watch in a movie theater for a guaranteed good time.

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