The first John Wick movie was 96 minutes long. Chapter 2 was 122 minutes, while Chapter 3 was 131 minutes, but it earned every second of that runtime as it expanded the Wick universe into new and exciting territory. The latest entry in the franchise, John Wick: Chapter 4, is 169 minutes, and if you think it benefits from that epic running time, you couldn’t be more wrong. This bloated sequel suffers greatly, weighed down by tedious, self-serious stretches that even the film’s best-choreographed sequences can’t quite save.
When we last saw Keanu Reeves’ titular dog lover in Chapter 3, he had a massive bounty on his head and an army of assassins on his tail. The film ended with him falling off a four-story building after being shot multiple times, which is no big deal for the Baba Yaga. Chapter 4 picks up with Wick having joined forces with the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) to take on the High Table, the powerful consortium that oversees a global network of assassins—and apparently, the Continental hotel chain that has served as their safe haven.
Besides Fishburne, Reeves is joined by a couple of familiar faces, including the Continental’s manager, Winston (Ian McShane), and its loyal concierge, Charon (the late, great Lance Reddick), though all three are mostly wasted in this sequel, which despite being nearly three hours long, doesn’t give any of them nearly enough to do.
Newcomers to the franchise include Bill Skarsgard (as the Marquis, a powerful member of the High Table) and Shamier Anderson (as a dog-accompanied bounty hunter known simply as the Tracker), both of whom are going through the motions here, as are veterans like Hiroyuki Sanada (as the manager of the Osaka Continental in Japan) and Clancy Brown (as a high-ranking member of the High Table). Fortunately, Donnie Yen (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) makes a strong impression as a blind assassin named Caine who goes way back with Wick, while Scott Adkins’ oversized villain Killa practically steals the movie. I also would’ve liked to have seen more from Japanese popstar Rina Sawayama, who plays the comely concierge of the Osaka Continental and is well-positioned for the franchise’s future.
Director Chad Stahelski delivers the kinetic action and balletic violence that fans have come to expect from this franchise, and there’s no question that Chapter 4 comes through on that front, though again, the fight scenes go on far too long and become not just repetitive after a while, but altogether numbing.
As much as I enjoy Reeves as this single-minded character who just wants out of the game, Wick speaks in this movie as though he’s had one too many hits to the head. Wick has always been a man of few words, but he’s practically monosyllabic here. Imagine Ethan Hunt with no personality.
But hey, at least he has a better fashion sense. Wick wears a bulletproof suit in this film and has gotten in the habit of hiding his face behind the lapel when he’s being shot at, which looks cool the first time or two, but by the 10th, it’s grown stale. When Wick climbs 222 stairs only to get knocked all the way back to the bottom and forced to start over, it feels like a video game, and when he proceeds to try again, it’s like replaying a level you nearly just beat. Perhaps gamers will appreciate that, but to me, it was like, ‘I just saw this!’
One of the things I really like about this franchise is the world they’ve built around Wick, but here, that recedes into the background. I miss the safe haven rules of the Continental, the importance of the coins, and all these little details that may not be entirely absent in Chapter 4, they’re just given short shrift. Instead, the film alternates between talky scenes treated way too seriously and balls-to-the-wall action sequences that always end with Wick picking himself up and dusting himself off.
Some of the fight scenes here are, to be sure, super cool, but too many of them are just anonymous henchmen sacrificing life and limb to up Wick’s body count. There are fights and shootouts in the middle of a packed Berlin nightclub whose denizens don’t seem too bothered, and for once, I’d like to see the media’s take on this one-man rampage. What does the outside world think is going on as bodies pile up in the morgue? After all, it’s not like the fallen just disappear, as they would in a video game. Does the public at large know who Wick is?
No one is asking these movies to make sense, but they could stand to be a bit more grounded, even as they face pressure to top themselves with bigger and better stunts. I know audiences love John Wick as a franchise, but my two younger brothers and I paid to see Chapter 4 on opening night and we all walked away disappointed, so unless you’re a diehard fan with a few hours to kill, this is probably one you can wait to watch in the comfort of your own home. Stunts aside, the story here doesn’t merit a trip to the theater.
In Hollywood, the hero may die, but he never stays dead, for permanence is antithetical to ongoing franchises. Whether this is, in fact, John Wick’s last chapter, remains to be seen, as the character is poised to return in an Ana de Armas-led spinoff titled Ballerina, and this movie is poised for its biggest opening. But don’t be fooled. It’s time for Reeves to holster his weapon, hang up the samurai sword, and go do something where he can show a bit more personality. You know… like Speed 3.