To boost their middling viewership, the Oscars may want to introduce Best Original Headshot as a new category. The nominees for the past few months alone would include the sanguinary Violent Night, J-Lo’s Shotgun Wedding, and without question, Keanu Reeves‘ latest martial arts obscenity, the much-anticipated sequel John Wick: Chapter 4.
It seems as if filmmakers are catering to an incessant audience desire for gore that centers around bullets, exploding brains, and buckets of blood worthy of the Grand Guignol. So many such sequences dominate this needlessly long and convoluted film that it would undoubtedly be crowned the ultimate Oscar winner in this imaginary contest. But no amount of gold plating could obscure what is otherwise yet another pointless story about a hero who refuses to die and proves cinematically impossible to kill.
Reeves returns as the black-clad title character, a mercenary assassin trained by a mysterious cabal known as the High Table. Like Jason Bourne and many others before him, Wick seeks to extricate himself from a life of crime and malfeasance, only to find himself pulled into an international web of senseless, endless violence. Picking up where the last fan-devoured entry, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, left off in 2019, Wick finds himself with an eight-figure bounty on his head, running to escape (read: kill) an endless list of goons in his own pursuit of a man whose death could ensure the freedom for which he has long yearned.
Director Chad Stahelski and his writers, Shay Hatten and Michael Finch, know full well that audiences are blood-lusting after this sequel and show up to watch Wick perforate skulls with his band of deadly accomplices. These include the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), a disgraced assassin working with the city’s underbelly to exact revenge on the High Table by sponsoring Wick along with Winston (Ian McShane), the manager of the Continental Hotel in New York, and its concierge, Charon (Lance Reddick), whose only purpose, as it turns out, is to help keep Wick alive for the bloated proceedings.
Wick also does battle with “The Blind Man” (Donnie Yen), a highly-effective assassin who mows down foes despite being unable to see, and the Marquis (Bill Skarsgard), a high-ranking Table member with a preposterous French accent, whose death Wick can leverage into freedom. The filmmakers make the incredibly solipsistic decision to craft a needlessly convoluted plot that will occupy three hours of your time and require Wick to jump through an endless array of video game-like hoops before getting to the ultimate boss in the last level. 90 minutes would have sufficed — unless the point, of course, was to fulfill some purpose around expiating the target audience’s anger with a constant parade of violence.
To be fair to this franchise’s fandom, the original John Wick became a sort of instant cult hit because the comeback by ’90s action star Reeves was both improbable but also nostalgically welcome 15 years after The Matrix. It was also based on the sort of ludicrous premise that the aging Reeves could play this incredibly nimble assassin, one who can deflect bullets with his cufflinks and be thrown down 200+ concrete stairs suffering nary a scratch. Audiences, in other words, created a sort of inside joke about the preposterous nature of the entire premise behind these films.
But, the joke is on them this time around, as John Wick: Chapter 4 is sloppy and almost entirely senseless from the beginning. In a pivotal sequence, a snarling, supposedly German crime boss (martial arts expert Scott Adkins) cheats at a game of five-card draw by turning over a five-of-a-kind, a hand that does not exist in poker. In another pivotal plot point, the High Table lays out a set of supposed time-honored rules about hand-to-hand combat and the importance of respecting protocol and honesty, only to see the principal villain engage in a concerted campaign to cheat this code of conduct. And, in the most infuriating betrayal of all, a supposedly high-stakes climatic denouement is anything but, as yet another story sacrifices consequences at the altar of corporate Hollywood greed.
Meanwhile, what had been some of the franchise’s best attributes — cool cinematography, crisp editing, and stunning fight sequences — are also mostly absent from these proceedings. In their place are more ludicrous sequences, including an extended one in a Berlin nightclub where the ciphers bop and bob their bodies like disco zombies while Wick shoots, maims, and kills all around them. If it was meant to be psychedelic or even neo-noir, it was anything but. Having the dancing drones escape the club in arm-waving panic after more than 30 minutes of shootings is the opposite of inspiring. Thus, neither the talent of Cinematographer Dan Laustsen nor Editor Nathan Orloff can mitigate any of this damage.
Bad habits die hard, and never more so than in Hollywood, which is currently starved for creativity, attention, and profit. Audiences will show up in droves to John Wick: Chapter 4, all but ensuring that the hero and his past-its-prime franchise will live to see another day and that any semblance of cinematic merit will continue to die the painful, head-exploding death of most of Wick’s victims.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is now playing in theaters nationwide courtesy of Lionsgate.