The John Wick series occupies peculiar territory in the modern cinema landscape – from humble, reasonably low-budget origins, the films quickly grew from arthouse-adjacent action cult items to a major tentpole. The series presents itself as the thinking man’s actioner, full of handsome cinematography, intricately choreographed fights and a weighty self-seriousness that belies the inherent silliness of its core concept. To me, the John Wick series has long been one that’s easier to admire than to love – there is no denying the technical prowess behind the camera, and it’s thrilling to see something so uncompromisingly itself excel well beyond its original, relatively small-scale beginnings. That it gives Keanu Reeves a new, iconic role to keep returning to is icing on the cake. But it always felt just a little cerebral, a little arm’s length. I know better than to ask for complexity in my action heroes, but it’s felt like the Wick character himself – a perennially put-upon, besuited angel of death whose catchphrase is literally just the word ‘Yeah’ – has been swimming in place over the last three films, a figure to whom much happens, who makes much headway through the swathes of attackers coming his way, but achieves little progress in terms of character growth. This is to say nothing of the film’s absurd dedication to its own lore, a fantasy tome’s worth of rules, side characters and obscure mythos that the series (some would say commendably) intones with po-faced seriousness, despite a general air of ludicrousness.


With John Wick: Chapter 4, the sense of a culmination of sorts is undeniable. Wick has been on the run for two films, hunted by a cavalcade of frighteningly capable killers, and now ‘The Table’, the enigmatic high council of the cabal of assassins that seemingly control the world, have tasked Marquis Vincent (Bill Skarsgard, one note), a ruthless and diabolical senior member of The Table, with bringing Wick down at any cost. Once again, Wick is dragged out of hiding, offered a chance to wipe the slate clean if he can tick a bunch of boxes that will allow him to fight and finally defeat Marquis in single combat. 

The latest instalment in the Keanu Reeves-starring action behemoth is everything you’d expect from a John Wick – balletic gun and knife-play, cartoonish character actors, mind-numbingly extensive world-building, and so on. It’s also, somehow, the best of the lot.

At 170 minutes, John Wick: Chapter 4 is exceedingly bloated, and that time is acutely felt in places. The first two acts feel largely more of the same in this expanded Wick universe – intricate inter-cabal machinations, countless goons and ‘boss’ characters we’re given little reason to care about, and dizzying sequences of combat that sometimes have the numbing effect of a fugue state. After a little while, the parade of faceless cannon fodder falling beneath Wick’s knives and bullets kind of blur into one amorphous shape. For all but the most ardent of Wick fans, this nearly two hours of film is torturously plodding, to the point where one wonders if that’s maybe the point. Surely Wick mastermind Chad Stahelski and his team must be aware of the sheer exhaustive repetitiveness of it all, and perhaps this is leading to some grand payoff?


Thankfully, they are aware, as the barnstorming final act of John Wick: Chapter 4 is quite comfortably the zenith of the series, the finest thing Stahelski, Reeves and company have achieved. After extensive, slow sequences of table setting, Stahelski unloads everything he has in the tank, from whirling birds-eye-view shootouts to gunfights in front of the Arc de Triomphe, dodging snarling traffic whipping by. Rifles are fired with rounds that explode into flame on impact like devilish fireworks, while an unseen radio DJ tracks the action with a range of outrageously on-the-nose needle drops. The centrepiece is a Sisyphean struggle up a truly monstrous set of stairs, evoking both Battleship Potemkin and The Untouchables, as Wick is assailed, tossed around, and beaten back as he tries to progress. It is truly something to behold. 

The John Wick series stands out among other actioners for the nature of its action – it’s intimate, close-quartered. There’s little room for car chases or wide, expansive vistas. The gun play is largely acted out within feet of each other, to say nothing of the knife play. It’s an approach that’s never really come to life for me – but with the rousing final act of John Wick: Chapter 4, goddamn does it kick into high gear. After a truly exhaustive litany of mayhem and chaos, it’s fair to say that John Wick: Chapter 4 is the most John Wick any reasonable person could stand – all the better, then, that to cap it all off, Stahelski miraculously finds a new, tender note to play in the film’s final moments. As the sun rises over Paris, Stahelski, heroically aided by Reeves and series regular Ian McShane, locate a core of emotion, and something even more surprising – a touch of grace.

John Wick: Chapter 4 in cinemas now.


John Wick: Chapter 4

Movie title: John Wick: Chapter 4 (Stahelski, 2023)

Movie description: The latest instalment in the Keanu Reeves-starring action behemoth is everything you’d expect from a John Wick - balletic gun and knife-play, cartoonish character actors, mind-numbingly extensive world-building, and so on. It’s also, somehow, the best of the lot.

Date published: March 23, 2023

Country: United States

Author: Shay Hatten, Michael Finch, Derek Kolstad

Director(s): Chad Stahelski

Actor(s): Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Lance Reddick, Donnie Yen

Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller

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