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  • Writer's pictureJames McCleary

John Wick: Chapter 4 // Film Review

How many times can we watch John Wick (Keanu Reeves) massacre rooms of armoured thugs unscathed before it starts to lose its lustre? To its credit, John Wick: Chapter 4 is a valiant attempt to swap out the franchise's martial arts Americana, now on the verge of tedium, for something more closely resembling a Leone Western, with a mixed bag of results.

The thing about The Good, The Bad & The Ugly is that the epic length is a series of contrivances to put its three guys together and establish common ground, while drilling their grudges in as deeply as possible. By the time we come to that final duel, these men understand one another on a level that removes all advantages, and leaves only the blazing fire of their rivalries.

JW4 runs in blatant parallel to Leone’s masterpiece, without doing any of the essential groundwork between its three players. Each is established and assigned a plain goal in the film’s opening thirty minutes, and little more is learned or expressed over the following two and a half hours. They barely even share the screen, which is particularly detrimental when one (the “Ugly”) has never met either opponent before. As a result, the emotional ferocity of previous Wick entries is largely absent here, as the titular killer is left to fight largely without purpose.

The fights themselves are technically immaculate, though there is an element of rote-ness to some of the dungeon clearing brawls, particularly in the middle act. One sequence in Osaka sees Wick fend off several rounds of thugs, one after another, armed a pair of nunchucks and his trusty handgun. Nothing about the environment changes in this time, nor do the enemies vary their approach, to the effect that the constant smacks and headshots become oddly monotonous.

The film's strongest sequences, all of which come in its extraordinarily tight final hour, give the combat a range of environments that almost evoke a Buster Keaton rhythm to how they toss and throw Reeves and his foes across the set. This is a series all about escalation, yet we're two thirds in before we get anything on par with the horse chase which opened John Wick: Chapter 3. When it comes, it comes, but too much of the early action feels more like fat than bone.

Where the Western influences do work is in the repositioning of Reeves’ Wick as the moral “Bad” of the story. Nearly every drop of blood spilt in the film is on his hands, and the audience is left wondering if the scales can ever be rebalanced. At one point, a character is asked if they believe Wick would land in Heaven or Hell upon his demise, and the film around them makes little argument for the former.

This shift in cosmic justice is fitting for a film entitled Chapter 4. While the plot pays constant homage to The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, this is a film more appropriately compared to the harsher fourth chapter in Leone’s Dollars series, Once Upon A Time In The West, engaging more with the idea a fading world that has already run its course before we arrive.

The remarkable escalation of Wick’s killing spree must have a tipping point, and while Chapter 4 is often too desensitised for its own good and lacks the soul of its predecessors, the ride is just self-aware - and certainly technically proficient - enough to stick the landing one last time.


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