John Wick: Chapter Four

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One of the most unusual pleasures of going to the cinemas todays is to observe how far a studio will and can take a franchise. When John Wick (2014) came out it’s rehashing of straight-to-video action flicks felt fresh or maybe even to younger audiences unique. John Wick was essentially director Chad Stahelski proving that he could make a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie just as well as Ringo Lam. But, three films and almost ten years later, John Wick: Chapter Four (2023) doesn’t feel like much of a variation on the franchise. In fact, quite the opposite is true which, ironically, is the film’s greatest asset.

As Keanu Reeves has continued to shoot bad guys and survive Looney Tunes style prat falls, the franchise itself has dispensed with both plot and character. John Wick: Chapter Four is very much akin to watching a friend play a video game at a sleep over. The “who”, “what”, “why” and “when” of the film are secondary to the spectacle of men accomplishing an escalating array of violent acts. Women in this cinematic universe are grown-up daughters of tough guys or their dead wives. It’s a world where men are motivated to kill and be killed by the absence of women.

All that there is in John Wick: Chapter Four are the images of well-dressed men slaughtering each other. Stahelski choreographs his action scenes the way that Gene Kelly would shoot a ballet in Invitation To The Dance (1956). For Stahelski it seems that John Wick: Chapter Four is a meditation on the grace and physical stamina of men. As hit men battle their way through Tokyo and Paris the camera moves in and out of the action, capturing the details of bodies in motion. Stahelski’s eye is fixated on the moves and gestures of physical violence in a way that draws comparisons to Bodas de sangre (1981).

To his credit, Stahelski rarely repeats a camera move, opting to imbue every show stopping set piece with its own unique visual style. And while allusions to Kelly, Saura, and Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) are superficially delightful, they unintentionally reinforce the parallels between the narrative structure of John Wick: Chapter Four and a video game. A 170 minute runtime for John Wick: Chapter Four is the weak link that forfeits the originality of Stahelski’s minimalist approach to the movie franchise. If the film were the modest length of its predecessors then perhaps I’d be more inclined to declare John Wick: Chapter Four the meeting ground between the art house and the out house.

John Wick: Chapter Four is all aesthetics. The stylistic stratagems and delivery of the film serve no purpose other than to fetishize masculinity. Any attempt at subversion is undone by sincerity and the long runtime while the storytelling is all but discarded. John Wick: Chapter Four is an aesthetic contradiction without aim. Why distill a franchise to its most singular and compelling attribute if there is no comment to be made or position to be taken? Perhaps with John Wick dead there will be some answers in the upcoming Ana de Armas spinoff.