What goes into making one of the best action movies of all time? Some bars need to be cleared, and parameters must be met. Movies like Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Aliens, Top Gun: Maverick, and Raiders of the Lost Ark all feel vastly different from John Wick: Chapter 4. However, that’s the pantheon that John Wick: Chapter 4 belongs in. Those movies rise above all else in either style, substance, content, or all three. Remembering back to where it all started, John Wick might not have invented the “gun-fu” genre of action movies we’re in these days, but it popularized it. Looking back at that film, the catalyst for events is John’s house being broken into and his dog being killed.
Fast forward to 2023, and we have a chase through the desert on horseback, car battles in France, waterfall dance club deathtraps, multiple assassins vying for John Wick’s head, and an entire world-controlling organization after him. It’s quite the journey and jumps in scope. That scope means we have bigger set pieces and a longer movie. Let’s get that out of the way.
Just How Long Is John Wick: Chapter 4?
John Wick: Chapter 4 clocks in at just under three hours with a two-hour and 49-minute runtime. While that isn’t a short movie, the runtime doesn’t feel long when watching it. That’s because of some excellent plot structure and devices by writers Shay Hatten and Michael Finch. Without spoiling too much, the movie is split into three parts. You have one section that’s John trying to rally and find allies. The second section is him trying to get a new family to be able to duel Marquis, the Head of the Table. Finally, there’s the section with an entire major metro city coming after John as he makes his way to the spot for a duel at sunrise.
This three-act structure is nothing new but makes each section feel like a mini-movie. The film glides effortlessly with action set pieces thrown in throughout that’ll make anyone’s jaw smack the floor.
The Action Is The Spectacle
The baseline for a Chad Stahelski-directed or stunt-coordinated film is going to be something that’s thrilling and inventive. So, John Wick: Chapter 4 raises the stakes and the bar regarding stunts and set pieces in a film. How no one thought to have a set piece at the Arc de Triomphe during rush hour with people weaving in and out of cars, is beyond me. But that’s just a slice of what you get in Chapter 4. An extended sequence with a dragon’s breath shotgun feels exactly like a video game would.
If a giant “PLAYER TWO PRESS START TO JOIN” sign flashed on the screen over the right-hand side of the screen, it would be picture-perfect. That’s how many of the action scenes feel in John Wick: Chapter 4. They are stunning to look at, and marvels of stunt work, and the editing never lets the film down. It doesn’t ever feel like you’re focusing on one character for too long and all the side characters, when they join the fray, get plenty of time to shine.
Donnie Yen, Hiroyuki Sanada, Scott Adkins, Shamier Anderson, & Rina Sawayama All Steal The Show
As much fun as it would be to see Keanu Reeves kicking ass solo for three hours, he needs help throughout John Wick: Chapter 4. The side characters like Shimazu, Killa, Akira, Caine, and Tracker are just as important to this story as he is. Even though he’s a ruthless, soulless, bastard, the side-villain Chidi (played excellently by Marko Zaror) makes you hate him. Like all good villains, he takes just as much punishment as the heroes but dishes out plenty more.
Donnie Yen is breathtaking in his scenes as Caine. Somehow the guy isn’t blind but sculpts an action performance that’s realistic as someone who’s lost their eyes. You’re rooting against him in his quest to kill John at every step of the way, but you realize his motivation clearly. It’s one of the better performances in the film, and it only adds to the absolutely stunning action that he’s part of. His duel with Hiroyuki Sanada in the film’s first act is spectacular and any action fan’s wet dream.
Shamier Anderson is one of the newcomers to the series, and his role is pretty complicated. His motivations aren’t as clear as the rest of the group, but he also has a dog, so you can’t root against the guy, even if he’s tasked with killing John. As his character develops through the film, I found myself liking him more and more. He’s a big part of the “Dragon’s Breath” extended setpiece and helps make that one so damn amazing.
Scott Adkins is stuck under a fat suit and plenty of prosthetics, but his turn as Killa is disgusting in all the right ways. He moves gracefully, but the scenes with Killa are all hard-hitting. You can feel the blows in the audience.
Watch The Warriors Before Chapter 4 For A Better Experience
One of the biggest extended set pieces in Chapter 4 takes place against the backdrop of a massive shoutout to the movie The Warriors. If you haven’t seen Walter Hill‘s 1979 masterpiece, go watch it, and you’ll get a better appreciation for this film. John Wick: Chapter 4 fits into that action pantheon of the best films ever made. For a sequel to go over the top of its previous entries without being too bloated is a testament to the talents of the creative team.
We’re getting plenty of spinoffs and other films in the same vein, but John Wick: Chapter 4 rises above the rest of recent action films. It’s breathtaking, heartbreaking, and one of the most fun times you can have at the theater.
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