It has been a hot minute since we’ve gotten such a consistent, original IP like the John Wick franchise. Embodied by slick action choreography and a tongue-in-cheek embracement of the melodramatic, lone wolf mercenary archetypes littering the discount movie bin at Walmart, the John Wick series has been red hot ever since the first film’s release in 2014. The franchise has found ways to continue to elevate its action set pieces to absolutely insane levels, and with this being potentially the final film in the series, my expectations were certainly high.
But low and behold, director Chad Stahelski and star Keanu Reeves have managed to create one of the most impressive feats of action filmmaking of the past decade. Tightly choreographed and masterfully shot, these sequences are genre defining, blowing many so many other modern action movies out of the water. Could everything in between these scenes be a bit cleaner? Most definitely, yet the slow moments can be surprisingly engaging thanks to some prolific character acting that continue to flesh out the world of Wick while adding some surprising depth to the one man murder machine’s journey.
John Wick continues to be on the run from the High Table, a seedy global organization made up of killers and assassins, looking for his way to freedom. His globetrotting escapades put him in the crosshairs of the Marquis, Vincent de Gramont, a high ranking official of the High Table, who puts a multi-million dollar bounty on John’s head. This brings an assortment of murders and thugs into John’s path of vengeance, including a nobody armed with a shotgun and a dog, and a blind assassin that was once buddy buddy with Wick himself.
The central narrative in itself is probably the weakest part of the film for me. It does amount to traveling from set piece to set piece without a ton of meaningful progression for the characters or even the stakes. I didn’t really get a feeling of urgency from the film, with it kind of riding on a flatlined energy that doesn’t really shift all that much. This isn’t completely new to the franchise truthfully, and it’s not so much of a problem in those because the runtime is far shorter. There’s certainly a lot of bloat here that could definitely be trimmed down, because while it does technically exist to build out the characters and world more, it does little for a story that we’ve kind of already agreed to treat secondarily to the action. The near three hour runtime does leave a lot of fat to be trimmed, even if I can appreciate the effort towards adding some humanity to a movie about guys getting their balls bit by a German Shepard.
Even with very few words and even fewer traditional line deliveries, Keanu Reeves does more than enough to deliver an enticing performance through his incredibly physical role as the titular character. Reeves really goes through the wringer here, getting absolutely demolished while still finding ways to survive and overcome the odds. Wick has always had the tendency to dip into Gary Stu territory with his sheer invincibility, but the film does a great job at throwing the kitchen sink at him in some of the most entertaining ways possible. Supporting Mr. Wick this time around is Donnie Yen as the blind assassin hilariously named Caine. Yen not only brings the expected physicality and speed to the role, but also the majority of the film’s emotion and humor. It’s nothing all that deeply resonating, but it does the job for what it’s worth. There’s also Shamiere Anderson as Nobody, a backpack-toting hitman partnered by his loyal canine companion. Anderson is perhaps the most down-to-earth of the characters here, adding a fun little everyman dynamic into the mix. There’s plenty of other side characters that help move the film along, but the last one I thought I’d touch on is Scott Adkins’s Killa, a German crime boss that, despite his appearance, is able to go toe to toe physically with John Wick. Their encounter leads to a highly entertaining fight throughout a waterfall drenched dance club, full of suplexes, shots and ass stabbings.
Like I said the action is the absolute money maker here, going above and beyond to deliver incredible fight scenes across intricate and complex set pieces. One of my biggest issues with the 2nd John Wick film was how most of the fights were well choreographed but one-note gunplay battles. This was later improved in the sequel and has now reached a crescendo of creativity. There’s the aforementioned wet club fight, a chase across Paris that’s highlighted by a shootout inside of a busy roundabout, a harrowing trek up a seemingly endless amount of stairs only to be knocked all the way down and forced to go up again, and an absolutely mind bending overhead gun battle that looks like a level ripped straight out of Hotline Miami. Not only is the choreography and staging superb, but the presentation with the camera work and coloring is also top notch, allowing these scenes to stand out among the countlessly drab gray and brown scenes we’re used to seeing in action flicks. The film does its damndest to refrain from cutting away when it can, letting you experience the masterclass of fighting before you. And what a variety of ways to kill people. You have guns, knives, katanas, walking sticks, doorbells, exploding ammunition, cars, dogs, stairs, pencils, and your good ole two hands. And yeah, the bulletproof suits are back, which I’m a bit torn on. When worn by the protagonist, it can feel like literal plot armor, allowing them to be shot numerous times without injury while lessening the threat of serious injury. On the other hand, I do like when it’s worn by the goons. It gives the protagonist a bit more of a challenge, and by extension, the writers and choreographers more of a challenge to design their way around how to kill what can’t be conventionally killed. Bottom line is this, you are probably not going to find better fighting and stunt work than this. It’s up there with Mad Max: Fury Road, The Raid 2, and Police Story as some of the most insanely dedicated physical work I’ve seen in a movie.
While it’s not the tightest film in the franchise, Chapter 4 is without a doubt the most visually impressive. Its fight scenes have to be seen to be believed, and while I’m sad this is supposedly the last one, we can rest easy knowing that the title of one-man killing machine is in good hands. Santa’s hands.
The Baba Yaga
John Wick is a man of simple things, which carries over into his drinking. His libation of choice is typically a pour of Blanton’s served neat (my man!), so for this cocktail I wanted to honor the Baba Yaga with a stiff bourbon cocktail that reflected the character’s ghostly legend and his bitter resentment towards those who have wronged him. The cocktail contains a balanced pairing of various flavors, made all the more unique by the infusion of black sesame seeds into the bourbon. This gives the cocktail and smokey, nutty flavor that pairs exceptionally well with its slight herbaciousness and bitterness. It’ll have you saying “Yeah”. But like, the way Keanu says it.
- 2oz black sesame seed infused bourbon
- 1oz Aperol
- 1/2oz Benadictine
- 1/2oz banana liqueur
- Smoke: Black sesame seeds
- To make the black sesame bourbon, allow about 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of black sesame seeds to infuse with about 4 to 6 ounces of bourbon for a few hours, until bourbon begins to darken. Strain out seeds.
- Add ingredients to a mixing glass and stir to chill.
- Strain into a chilled rocks glass.
- Smoke a small amount of black sesame seeds, transfering the smoke into the glass (this can be done before straining cocktail depending on smoking method.