One of the biggest achievements of the “John Wick” series ever since its inception in 2014 has been of creating a wholly original creation dependent on no prior properties. Although it has nonetheless given rise to an alluring figure in pop culture by creating a self-perpetuating mythology of its own, the films have also grounded themselves in pristine action and stunt choreography. Even while being devoid of its charismatic protagonist jumping off airplanes, the emphasis over practical set pieces and hand to hand combats make these films seem equally (if not consistently more) visceral. The premise and the lore of Wickworld is adroitly paranoiac, just keeping it a thin line away from turning it all over the top. The previous two entries saw a neat expansion of the world built around tentacular connections between the crude underworld of contract killers, swayed by the shadowy overlords who keep them in action. That wicked authority is, of course, called the High Table – it dispenses orders to kill on pain of being killed and brokers the deals for bounty hunters. If it sounds like a modernized western story beat, that’s because it is; the John Wick films have always tethered at being a glorious mesh of westerns and neo-noirs, as they let the cityscape inspired from the two unfold through its relentless action. “John Wick: Chapter 4″ is the most definite expansion of it.
The film takes off right from the third installment, which concluded with Wick killing a High Table assassin at the New York Continental along with Winston’s help, and then teaming up with the Bowery King to fight against the High Table. After one of the most (literally) thundering opening sequences in recent memory, we see Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) get John suited up for the battle to come, while the High Table takes devastating revenge against Winston (Ian McShane) for helping the man. The latter is now excommunicated, even leaving his hotel demolished. John, after having rid a horse at the film’s beginning, soon heads to Morocco to dispatch a High Table overlord called the Elder (George Georgiou). He leads him to the Osaka Continental hotel, another High Table base set in Asia, where he also learns from its manager (Hiroyuki Sanada) what happened to Winston and the New York hotel. John Wick vows to “kill them all”. And here’s where the film shows off one of its initial massive action set pieces.
It’s becoming an increasing tendency of franchise films to deliver upon bigger set pieces and death defying stunts with each entry. But as we often see, bigger doesn’t always translate into better filmmaking. One of the main reasons is because these films often water down the expansion of their respective worlds while simultaneously blockading the emotional dexterity of its characters. Chad Stahelski’s latest doesn’t only have some of the best set pieces from all the four films, but also expands upon the ludicrously complex mythology at its world’s center, even introducing new rules to the High Table’s command. The same intricate set of seemingly nonsensical rules take on a greater meaning here, while we watch a contract being levied against Wick for having killed High Table notables. The assassin pursuing to take him down includes a bounty hunter called Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson), who shows up with his beloved dog, both of whom help draw a neat arc of their own. However, the standout remains Caine (Donnie Yen) – a remarkable blind assassin who has been dispatched by a High Table potentate called the Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård). Gramont is the kind of villain we often see in Bond films (well, the older ones at least) – a sadistic nobleman who somewhere recognizes how replaceable his position is; you can’t help but wonder if that’s what often triggers into outlandish bursts of violence.
As with most genre-defining box office successes, the John Wick films too have always been in conversation with film history. But Stahelski probably didn’t realize back in 2014 what sort of influence he would have on the genre that soon followed the crisp 100- minute action flick. “Chapter 4” at its staggering 170- minute runtime is seemingly most in conversation with what came before; the movie doesn’t only come across as a reasonable extension of the Wickworld, but deftly pays homage to some of the greatest films that were born out of genre pastiche that inspired it. Dan Laustsen’s sumptuous cinematography percolates a neon world that remains staunch at capturing combats that don’t numb you down – not because of their over abundance but despite that. The intricate staging and camera blocking coalesce into even better textured compositions, enough to make the audience be okay with the non verbal communication of the character at its center. There are sub-action sequences within the geographically laid out action sequences, each one separate and better from the one that came before. More importantly, there’s no daggy lighting that Stahelski and his team wants to conceal the action with – they know that’s the whole point of the film, the runtime is just another way to show it off. Does the movie have to be this long? Of course not. Is it enough to be drenched into this neon-lit world that delivers upon some of the best choreographed and staged action sequences in decades? I guess I’ll need a rewatch.