By Bob Garver
There’s something about a fourth movie in a series that tends to be dangerous for a franchise’s legacy. “Batman and Robin” led to the Caped Crusader being taken off the big screen for eight years. “Terminator: Salvation” is better remembered for its miserable production than anything in the finished film. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was widely seen as a severe disservice to the iconic character. Even the Oscar-winning “Toy Story 4” was criticized for not leaving a perfectly good trilogy alone. Yes, “Mad Max: Fury Road” was a rousing success, though fans seemed to care very little about the “continuation” aspects of the movie. “John Wick: Chapter 4” didn’t have a 30-year gap to make sure things were just right. It only had, fittingly, four years, and they were affected by the pandemic. What I’m saying is that it’s no surprise that the new movie is the worst of the series. Now that’s only a relative “worst,” I still recommend the movie overall. But I can’t help but see this movie as a misstep in a franchise that hadn’t made many mistakes up to this point.
The film sees the revered title assassin (Keanu Reeves) at war with the mysterious overlords known as the High Table. He killed an off-limits enemy way back in Chapter 2, and the High Table wants him killed as a consequence, but he’s not having it, and tensions and body counts have only escalated since. A high-ranking Table member known as the Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård) is tasked with handling the situation, and he starts by handing down consequences to Wick’s allies Winston (Ian McShane) and Charon (the late Lance Reddick). I would have been unhappy with Charon’s fate even if Reddick hadn’t recently died, and now it frankly seems downright disrespectful.
Wick knows that the High Table will kill anyone that helps him, so naturally he goes to Osaka and endangers his old friend Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada). A shootout ensues, in which Wick finds out that another old friend, a blind assassin named Caine (Donnie Yen) is working for the High Table, but only because they’ll kill his daughter if he doesn’t. He also meets an anonymous “tracker” (Shamier Anderson) who is so greedy that he’s willing to help keep Wick alive until the Marquis raises the bounty on his head to a more lucrative amount, then he’ll kill him.
The Marquis is right to be nervous. High Table rules state that Wick can win his freedom if he can kill the Marquis in a one-on-one duel. There’s a whole side trip where Wick has to be accepted into a family of assassins and get revenge on sleazy crime boss Killa Harkan (Scott Adkins) in order to qualify, but the duel in Paris is destined to happen. There’s just the matter of Wick needing to live until the appointed dueling time of sunrise. To make it, he’ll have to survive a citywide shootout against anyone that wants to collect the bounty. Cue a seemingly hour-long sequence of Wick in shootouts in the middle of traffic at the Arc de Triomphe, at an abandoned building with wondrous overhead camerawork, and on a steep staircase outside Sacré-Cœur. And all John has is a bulletproof suit and a gun provided by his friend The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) that also serves as a flamethrower.
The third act saves “John Wick: Chapter 4” by the skin of its teeth. Until then, the film is plagued by baffling character decisions, insufficient exposition (like, why does the High Table use extortion on Caine when they’re otherwise happy to pay people for their services?), and poor pacing. But once those gun-kata action scenes start up, I just can’t stay mad at this movie. If this marks the end of the “John Wick” series, then I can say the franchise never had a “bad” installment. I just have to put a nervous emphasis on “bad” so as not to give “Chapter 4” undue praise.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” is rated R for pervasive strong violence and some language. Its running time is 169 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at email@example.com.