Before we get into the review proper, we must take a moment to pay tribute to Lance Reddick, who tragically passed away on March 17 at just age 60. He was one of the industry’s most reliable performers over the last two decades, with a screen-presence that was second to none. His acting legacy includes roles in acclaimed TV series like “Oz,” “The Wire,” “Lost” and “Fringe,” as well as the “Destiny” and “Horizon” video games franchises. Of course, he is also Charon in the “John Wick” franchise. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” serves as a beautiful, poetic chapter for Reddick’s final appearance in the unlikely action franchise. A worldwide phenomenon, spawned from the 2014 original that almost went directly to DVD, “John Wick” has seen no shortage of death. Wick is widowed before the start of the first film, and the killing of his dog is the story’s inciting incident. He dispatches countless foes along the way, almost cartoonishly defying his own demise at every turn.
Now, “Chapter 4” culminates with some of the most spectacular action sequences in recent American cinema, while also managing to reinject some of the first chapter’s emotional weight.
John’s game of cat-and-mouse with the assassin underworld continues, with the High Table (their governing body, remember?) pulling out all the stops to put him out of the game for good. Keanu Reeves’ performance here is his best yet, particularly with his plentiful opportunities for humor. Whether it’s a simple line reading or a feat of physical comedy that would make Buster Keaton blush, Reeves isn’t afraid to poke fun at himself or revel in the absurdity of this world. He’s not lost his edge, though. Some of the most badass Wick moments to date are sprinkled throughout, involving everything from nunchucks to dragon’s breath shotgun shells to the longest staircase you’ve ever seen — all beautifully realized by cinematographer Dan Laustsen.
Make no mistake, though, Reeves is more than happy to share the spotlight as this is the franchise’s biggest and best supporting cast to date. Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne and the late Lance Reddick are familiar faces, while martial arts legends Hiroyuki Sanada and Donnie Yen join in pivotal new roles. Sanada’s Shimazu is accompanied by real-life musician Rina Sawayama playing his daughter, Akira, an imposing figure in her own right who leaves much to be explored. Did someone say spinoff? Sanada sharing the screen with Reeves and Yen is magic, but it’s Yen’s character, Caine, who quite nearly steals the entire film.
Caine’s blindness requires him to execute some of the more inventive combat sequences, and he has a subplot involving a daughter of his own that leaves you rooting for him – even when he’s toe-to-toe with the titular hero. Bill Skarsgård (and his questionable French accent) makes for a somewhat cliché villain, Marquis de Gramont, who you’ll love to hate, and Shamier Anderson’s nameless Tracker character and doggy sidekick are a delightful duo who attempt to play both sides of the Wick-High Table conflict.
Every player, no matter their significance in the greater scheme, gets a moment to shine, and the expansive scope of the film accommodates the expanded roster of assassins. With set-pieces from New York to Osaka, Berlin to Paris, each more jaw-dropping than the last, this “Wick” feels more akin to “James Bond” or “Mission: Impossible” than its predecessors – and is all the better for it.
Keanu Reeves’ journey with this character has resulted in a second-life in a career that is nothing short of remarkable, but director Chad Stahelski says the franchise is due for a rest after this installment. I can’t say I blame him. Once the nearly 40-minute grand finale of “John Wick: Chapter 4” has concluded, we get an emotional reminder that the greatest original action franchise of the last decade is just a story about a man who lost his wife. Where we leave Wick brings it full circle and reminds us of those shimmering images of him and his wife that flashed throughout the first film.
Nothing can bring back the people he’s lost, but light can always be found at the end of the tunnel… or down the barrel of his gun.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” releases in theaters Thursday, March 23, 2023.
Johnny Sobczak is an entertainment journalist and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in Media and Journalism and minored in Global Cinema. Johnny is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has been with Inside the Film Room since August 2019. He was named Senior Writer in January 2020 and co-hosts the Inside the Film Room podcast with Zach Goins. Johnny spends his days job-hunting, watching films and obsessing over every new detail of Denis Villeneuve's "Dune."