At the Movies with Alan Gekko: John Wick Chapter 4

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: John Wick Chapter 4

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Neo-Noir Action Thriller/Stars: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård, Laurence Fishburne, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shamier Anderson, Lance Reddick, Rina Sawayama, Scott Adkins, Ian McShane, Clancy Brown, Natalia Tena, Marko Zaror, George Georgiou, Bridget Moynahan/Runtime: 169 minutes

I think it’s safe to say that if there is one kind of movie actor that deserves all the love in the world, it’s the one who is willing to lay it all on the line in the name of keeping us as movie goers continuously entertained with the slices of cinema that they choose to gift us over the years. Indeed for an example of this phenomenon then look no further than screen icons Tom Cruise and (especially) Jackie Chan to name but a couple of the more noteworthy examples. With that in mind though, I do think there is another name that definitely should be added to the list if he’s not there already. That name being Keanu Reeves. Yes this acting icon is one who has been one of the more distinct and beloved talents of movie magic throughout his career, but starting in 2014 he found himself embarking down a new path. One made up of equal parts blood and bullets and which Reeves chose to traverse in the role of a dog loving former yet still highly skilled assassin named John Wick. Suffice it to say then that, following the phenomenal success of the first entry back in 2014, it should come as no surprise to learn that the stakes in each ensuing film are increased, the world of the franchise has been fleshed out even further, and the action has gotten more and more jaw-dropping in both what distinct beats that we as movie goers are given as well as in its level of execution. Suffice it to say that for a lot of franchises that might see a 4th installment, they would severely buckle under the ever-increasing weight and cause the franchise as a whole to come to a screeching halt. Fortunately for all of us as movie goers John Wick is no normal franchise. I say that because 4-5 hours may have come and gone since I saw it, but I am still completely enthralled by what we as movie goers have been given with John Wick Chapter 4. Indeed, the performances given by this slice of cinema’s truly gifted cast of players both new and returning are all a genuine blast, the work done behind the camera is equally as riveting, and the action beats will leave your jaw on the floor with how creative and just plain fun they are. To be sure, there are some miniscule issues here and there, but at the end of the day John Wick Chapter 4 is still most assuredly another fantastic entry in this series to say nothing of being exactly what those who love this franchise very much wanted it to be.

The plot is as follows: So when last we left our intrepid Mr. Wick, we saw that he was more than just a bit aggrieved and worse for wear. In all fairness though, the man had just been shot off the roof of a building and proceeded to hit pretty much every single outcropping on the way down before hitting the ground with a resounding thud so I think it’s safe to say that physically the man should just consider himself lucky he wasn’t turned into mush. All jokes aside, we see that when our story here gets underway that Wick has been in hiding with fellow assassin The Bowery King and is now ready to take the fight directly to the High Table aka the group at the top of the assassin hierarchy who he had once tried to make amends with for his assorted acts of violent mayhem. We soon see that, in the aftermath of our intrepid hero’s first strike against this group which I shan’t spoil here, he is able to discover a way that could free him from his obligations and in the process purge his record of all his various chaotic and more than slightly homicidal deeds thus allowing him to walk away as unscathed from this life once more as he could possibly hope to get at this point. This way, we soon learn, will involve John challenging a senior member of the High Table in the shape and form of a more than slightly sleazy European nobleman known as the Marquis Vincent de Gramont to a one-on-one duel. Of course, if you are the kind of person who thinks that this is going to go exactly as planned then I think it only best to ask you the following question: when exactly has ANYTHING in this franchise ever gone exactly according to plan for any of the characters especially its titular protagonist? On the other hand, if you are the kind of viewer who is aware that chaos is the name of the game in this distinct universe then you would definitely be on the right track. I say that because it isn’t long before Wick, the few allies he still has in his corner, and the squad of people opposing them find themselves on a collision course. One that, by the time this slice of cinema is over, will see a lot of people dead, a lot of bullets shot, scores of other weapons utilized, and no more or less than Wick and the opportunity to reclaim the freedom he fought so hard to acquire once before desperately hanging in the balance…..

Now right off the bat I guess I should say that the work done behind the camera is no more or less than absolutely outstanding. This starts with the fact that, for all the grief people give movies about their length if over two hours, the tempo with which this slice of cinema operates should send a definitive message that, if they are this much fun, let a movie be as long as it wants. Indeed with every installment in this series, we see that its’ helmer has managed to mold a wonderful awareness of when to have Wick swiftly yet precisely annihilate a group of heavies and when to take things slow thereby permitting us to embrace the visceral anarchy on screen. Suffice it to say that this awareness is very much present and appreciated here and it is reinforced wonderfully by a well-penned script. Of course, the big reason you are here is to see the action beats that have been conjured up for this particular installment and trust me when I say that this film most assuredly does not disappoint. Indeed from a scene in the desert with Wick on a horse facing off against a group also on horseback in a way that feels like something we’d see in the movie Lawrence of Arabia to vibrant scenes of combat in Paris against such backdrops as the Eiffel Tower, the action beats here are absolutely stunning and then some. With that said, I think the highlight for me is the scene where the High Table launches a full-out assault on the Osaka branch of the Continental.  Yes the previous installment offered a hint of what would occur if a Continental manager decided to go up against the Table, but this one takes it up at least ten notches and then some. Finally, it should also be said in this section that for being a franchise that has always managed to look downright fashionable, I can definitely say that this latest installment has managed to attain a new benchmark for all future action movies to try and attain particularly in regard to the work done by their production design and cinematography departments respectively. Indeed every single location that Wick, and by extension all of us, traverse to in this film be it Osaka, New York, Berlin, or Paris all manage to possess distinct differences from an architecture perspective. As a result, this permits this slice of cinema’s brilliant director of photography plenty of creative chances to bathe the cast of characters in this franchise’s now-trademark differing neon glows. More than that, we also see that it be the street lights in Paris or the lighting at the Osaka branch of the Continental each of these also helps to ensure that each location has its own sense of identity to say nothing of making it that much easier for us to know where we are in the movie. It also doesn’t hurt in the slightest that these efforts are all wonderfully reinforced by a rather dynamic musical accompaniment that does an absolutely brilliant job at not only following along with us on this globetrotting adventure, but also has a dialogue with the action beats in such a way that it ensures the bigger moments in this film are either supported or downplayed appropriately. Suffice it to say then that in terms of the work done behind the camera this crew should definitely pat themselves on the back for they have all managed to create something truly phenomenal with this film.

Of course, for all the top-tier work that being done behind the camera, it wouldn’t mean nearly half as much if the cast of players in front of the camera don’t live up to their end of the bargain. Fortunately, that is most certainly not an issue as the cast of characters here are all brought wonderfully to life. Indeed, in their returning roles of The Bowery King, Charon, and Winston respectively we see that Laurence Fishburne, the late yet great Lance Reddick, and Ian McShane might not get nearly as much to do in the grand scheme of things, but they all still in their own distinct ways get little moments here and there throughout the film to both shine and remind us of their incredible talents. Along with them, we also get a wonderful collection of performances from the new kids on the block including a wonderfully hiss and boo-inducing turn from Bill Skarsgård (who just seems to be this generation’s go-to guy for sleazy villainy at this point) as well as Donnie Yen, Hiroyuki Sanada, a fairly imposing and unrecognizable at first Scott Adkins, and Marko Zaror who all manage to remind us in their own distinct ways why they are all viewed as phenomenal additions to the action genre of movie magic even if Yen and Sanda in all fairness get a bit more in terms of substantive narrative material to work with than the others. Through it all though the one performance that strengthens the rest of them, and by extension the film overall, is the one given by (surprise surprise) Keanu Reeves in the titular role. No, he might not have a lot in the way of dialogue, but there are two ways in which Reeves definitely continues to operate very much as the heart and soul that this franchise needs him to be. The first is in terms of the sheer dedication from a physicality standpoint that Reeves brings to the part. I mean this guy is closing in on 60 dear reader and yet he is doing things in this movie that if someone like I tried I would wind up being the laughingstock of my local emergency room. The second is the fact that, for all the insanity that occurs in this movie, Reeves still brings a down to earth realism to the part that is honestly downright inspiring. Yes, the world that this character is a part of, to say nothing of the character himself, might at times throw the rule book at physics in what it and he are able to showcase at times. Be that as it may be however, the fact remains that it all is still ultimately able to find vital roots in the realistic feelings of agony and fury that Reeves showcases perfectly. Indeed, what has consistently made the character of John Wick so compelling isn’t just his skill at killing people with practically anything he can get his hands on. Nor is it the fact that he can get his butt handed to him in turn thus adding a human quality to this otherwise unstoppable force of a man. Rather, it’s the fact that this was a guy who was given an opportunity to walk away from all of this, actually did for a while, but then found himself heartbreakingly forced back in and has since found that, no matter how many weapons he uses or people he kills, he might never truly be free again. It’s a bit bleak to be sure, but Reeves has always managed to find a way to give this boogeyman of the criminal underworld a degree of humanity, heart, and even nobility as well. Suffice it to say that Keanu Reeves IS John Wick and his performance is still just as brilliant now as it was all the way back in 2014.

All in all and at the end of the day, I can’t lie to you dear reader: making a single slice of cinema the most successful that it could hope to be is a challenge in and out of itself. Making that film into a franchise that is able to stay consistently successful with both critics and movie goers much like you me though? That to me sounds like quite the impossible task. Having said that though, this IS John Wick we are talking about and he does have a past that is rooted in coming through on those so I shouldn’t be that surprised that this franchise has been as immensely successful as it has been. Even when taking the success of the prior three films into account though, there is no denying that this installment is something genuinely special. I say that because it is my distinct opinion that John Wick: Chapter 4 manages to do the unthinkable and not only be better than the previous installments in this series, but also prove to be one of the finest action films of the past ten years period. Sure there are some minor issues that one could point out if one was willing to, but even so there is no denying that this slice of cinema is overflowing with phenomenal work behind the camera, action beats that I can assure you will definitely leave your jaw agape and the rest of you on the edge of your seat, a top-tier collection of performances from a fantastically chosen cast of players, and all without slipping up and forgetting to hang on to the very grounded and human element at play which helps to keep its’ titular protagonist’s noble albeit blood-soaked quest for exoneration at the forefront of every bullet shot and every person mercilessly butchered. Suffice it to say therefore that John Wick Chapter 4 is more than just cinematic brilliance. Rather, this is a slice of cinema that shows us just how incredible a franchise can be when it is made right and how powerful an impact a character can have when they are played with the skill and heart that this one has been played with time and time again. On a scale of 1-5 I give John Wick Chapter 4 a solid 4.5 out of 5.