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John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)

I just saw John Wick: Chapter 4 and it was a lot of fun. It’s the type of action extravaganza that perfectly streamlines both its plot and characterisation and uses elegant pacing so that it never becomes monotonous or dull, at least not for me. At a runtime of just under 3 hours, that’s very impressive.

It reminded me a bit of action films from the early 2000s or even the grindhouse days when characters were styled like action figures and at the disposal of choreography and special effects, but the productions had a joie de vivre as well as a filmmaking craft that justified the approach. John Wick 4 is like a comic book or a video game, and that’s not a bad thing at all, just indicative of its particular genre. It knows exactly when to play for laughs, when for shock, and when for sentiment.

The plot is that a sinister organisation called The Table has its fingers in everyone’s pies and is pursuing a rogue retiree, John Wick (Keanu Reeves), whose old life as an assassin keeps catching him up with him. All of the characters are effectively sketched pulp types, from Wick to a blind Asian assassin called Caine (geddit?), a Black sniper known as Mr Nobody (assisted by a loyal pooch in a nod to the first film), and a French main antagonist, the Marquis.

The latter’s played as a strutting Gallic Narcissus by Bill Skarsgard. You know he’s a jammy git because he styles himself as aristocracy, wears sharp suits, talks business while horses are practised for dressage around him, and watches ballet in an empty theatre but for him and a single dancer. (The sick, sick puppy.) I wish that his role as written had received a touch more characterisation, say with some backstory details, if only because Skarsgard would have pulled it off. But he serves his function very well as a mad Boy Prince.

I really liked the world-building in this film. Like Kill Bill, the story takes place in a world which looks and sounds like ours, but whose people have a completely different relationship to reality than us. Not just because Wick survives about three falls which should at least have made him a paraplegic, but also due to how The Table operates.

This is an underworld organisation that can blow up a hotel in downtown New York and organise a punch-up/gun battle around the Arc de Triomphe during rush hour, not to mention a Renaissance duel on the steps of the Sacré-Cœur, without so much as a raised eyebrow from the tourist board. Someone should tell Emmanuel Macron what all these ninjas are doing, bouncing each other off passing cars.

The action sequences are wonderful. One borrows from 2022’s Batman, with a fight across a nightclub filled with silhouetted dancers and neon rain, used as a hideout by a Penguin-like gangster. Later, in a brilliant storytelling device, we see a roomful of Japanese women operating a switchboard, typing on old computers, and moving markers around a board while a Black DJ hosts an assassin’s sweepstakes, taking bets on who survives. The camera work includes a majestic long shot above the ceilings of a multi-storey building, tracking characters between rooms. A film like this is a bit like watching ballet: even if you don’t like dancing, you can appreciate the painstaking craft that goes into it.

Keanu Reeves gives a titter-inducing performance. Bless him, his acting’s a bit like rigour mortis, getting stiffer with time. And yet he’s still a great fit for this role. He has an innate likeability and even cuddliness that works. I reflected during a scene where he was lighting henchmen on fire that he’s the only action star who can do that and still seem like a big ol’ teddy bear. I look forward to the next chapter and will be surprised if Reeves doesn’t go on to survive more extreme battery.


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