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‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ review: Action cinema’s greatest hits

Ryan Oquiza
‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ review: Action cinema’s greatest hits

Keanu Reeves as John Wick and Donnie Yen as Caine in John Wick 4. Photo Credit: Murray Close

Murray Close/Lionsgate

‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ doesn’t feel like the fourth film of a franchise; it’s an exclamation point, a high watermark for action cinema as a whole

Lawrence of Arabia, Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, Daredevil, The Matrix, Kill Bill, Police Story, Enter The Dragon – just a few of the films that John Wick: Chapter 4 lovingly pays homage to in its almost three-hour masterclass on visual kineticism and balletic gun-fu choreography. It doesn’t feel like the fourth film of a franchise; it’s an exclamation point, a high watermark not just for the stunt-focused, brute-force physicality style of action filmmaking, but for action cinema as a whole.

To quote a recent Oscar winner, it is quite literally everything, everywhere, all at once. Keanu Reeves transcends conventional action roles and becomes a jaded Western hero, an Eastern samurai warrior, a heavy-gun toting hitman, and a Bruce Lee-inspired nunchuck master. He is an every-man, an embodiment of all the action icons all the way from the early heydays of action films up until the present. When Edwin Porter made The Great Train Robbery in 1903 and pictured a robber shooting a gun directly towards a camera, who would’ve thought that around 120 years later, a camera would capture Keanu Reeves on horseback at the desert, wielding his pistols at other riders as the sun rises over the horizon.

Chapter 4 begins with a regime change in the ruthless criminal underworld of the High Table. Winston (Ian McShane) and Charon (Lance Reddick) are stripped of their Continental duties after the events of the previous film and their failure to subdue John Wick, leaving other Continental Hotel managers who have shown support for Wick, such as Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama), in grave danger.

Behind all of this is Marquis, played by Bill Skarsgård, who is super into his thick European accent and is a bit too self-serious. His fake formality and politeness are written all over his face, masking his lack of experience and cowardice, making him really easy to hate. New characters introduced include Donnie Yen as Caine, a blind master assassin with a Daredevil-esque set of skills matched only by his complicated moral code and questionable sense of loyalty. 

Sawayama is the breakout performer as Akira in the film. In the first half, it isn’t obvious that this is her first film role. The British-Japanese pop star commands the screen with her impressive range, imbuing her character with a raw sense of vulnerability and pathos. Not only does Sawayama execute complex fight choreography with precision, including splits, bow and arrow techniques, and lethal stabbing maneuvers, but she also conveys emotional depth not many first-timers can sneak into an action film. There’s also famous martial arts performer Scott Adkins in a fat suit doing Kingpin-esque throwdowns and serving as one of Wick’s most fun antagonists to date.

And then there’s Keanu Reeves in the lead role, who now embodies the essence of the philosophical Sisyphus, endlessly pushing a boulder uphill in an attempt to reach the next stage of his perilous journey, only to face yet another battle, and another, and another. No matter how many times he defeats his obstacle, he’s faced with the unyielding weight of his own destiny. He is destined to keep killing, to keep running towards a goal post that always changes. Reeves impresses you with just how far he’s willing to go, and he goes on for so long that you’re practically as exasperated as he is in the end.

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We’ve come a long way from the initial impetus of seeking vengeance for his murdered dog and grieving for his deceased wife. With each succeeding film, Wick becomes a harbinger of death, leaving behind a trail of bloodshed that creates more cycles of violence as he contends with capping off his own. He is the walking embodiment of destruction, a force of nature that simply cannot be stopped. In Chapter 4, the consequences have finally caught up to him.

As each ragged breath escapes John Wick, you’re reminded of his humanity. As each dizzying array of light dances before your eyes with each meticulously composed shot, you’re reminded of his larger-than-life persona. And with each kick, punch, and gunshot, you’re reminded that he was made for the screen, a mélange of Reeves’ own action personas carefully crafted throughout the years.

And what makes this new installment so much more cathartic is that it cuts the fluff. In the opening, Wick is faced with an eccentric master, waxing poetry about how he can never escape his fate and his innate nature. It’s reminiscent of the heavy determinism and free will themes of the Matrix sequels. And you know what Wick does? He shuts that person up and continues on to the next action set-piece. 

So if you’re an action fan, then the last hour of this film might feel like your own personal Avengers: Endgame. Director Chad Stahelski commits to film a visual and auditory tour de force that spares no expense in capturing thrilling and bombastic set-pieces and offers just about every possible love letter imaginable to the genre. There’s a car chase, a high-speed fight on a crowded road, a massacre in an abandoned house, an intense bout on a flight of stairs, and a classic Mexican standoff.

There’s a scene where the camera goes to a top down shot, prompting my jaw to legitimately drop. At other points, a woman in the theater would audibly squeal with each drop of blood that appeared on John Wick. And towards the end, with all eyes transfixed on the screen, I, along with the audience, held our collective breath, the palpable silence lingering like a pin poised to drop, the anticipation practically killing us. Suddenly, an explosion of action erupts, unleashing gasps, cheers, shrieks, and then some applause. It’s unlike any cinema experience I’ve had before. 

The totality of the filmmaking, choreography, and stunt performances creates a singular energy that is both sweeping and energizing, allowing the audience to vicariously experience the god-like feats of Keanu Reeves on screen. There are scenes where the entire cinema practically rallies behind the protagonist, urging him to soldier on with each step as if they are holding the controller and desperately mashing buttons to get him to get up.

I normally wouldn’t recommend people paying north of P500 to watch a film. But if you’re going to spend your money, watch John Wick: Chapter 4 and enjoy your three hours. –

‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ is now showing in Philippine cinemas nationwide.

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Ryan Oquiza

Ryan Oquiza is the chief film critic of and one of the hosts of the film podcast Sine Simplified. He has written for both PhilSTAR Life and CNN Philippines Life. He is an alumnus of the Ricky Lee Screenwriting Workshop. He is currently studying at the University of the Philippines Diliman.