The John Wick franchise, the titular protagonist of which has become an enduring character for Keanu Reeves’ already impressive resumé, along with the Mission Impossible films led by Tom Cruise, have come to be considered the gold standard of Western action cinema. Apparently, we live in an era where the median age for a standout action star is now in the fifties. What separates these franchises, though, is that while Mission Impossible is best known for its increasingly jaw-dropping stunts (seriously, check out what they’re doing for the upcoming Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One), John Wick’s trademark is intense and clever action set-pieces with minimal cuts, wearing its Hong Kong action cinema influence like a badge of honour.
While we must wait until July 14th before we can see the seventh and penultimate entry in Mission Impossible franchise, John Wick: Chapter 4 is set to release on March 24th, and as such the film has just been screened for critics, with the social media embargo having been lifted yesterday. Any reservations fans might have had about the 169-minute feature – which is not only the longest in the franchise by a wide margin but also the first without the screenwriting input of series creator Derek Kolstad – can now be put to rest, as praise for the third sequel has not just been effusive, but the general consensus is that it is the best entry in the series, if not one of the best action films in recent years.
Sean Mulvihill of Mulviews perhaps puts it best by outright saying that “John Wick: Chapter 4 is everything you expect from a John Wick movie.” This is exactly what fans of the franchise wanted to hear, yet I must play devil’s advocate and admit that while I immensely enjoyed John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, certain parts began to feel a little overdone and stale, namely the surprisingly repetitive action sequence in Cuba. This could have been an issue exacerbated by the 3-hour runtime, but critics have almost unanimously praised its breakneck pace and consistently thrilling action sequences, with The Wrap’s Scott Mendelson proclaiming that “John Wick: Chapter 4 is, at least from a technical POV, one of the greatest Hollywood action movies ever made… It’s a towering artistic achievement”, while Therese Lacson of Collider comfortingly admits “I normally don’t love so much action in my movies but Stahelski makes every frame count.” That is not to say that every critic felt this way, with Jordan Farley of Total Film noting that “For better and worse the action almost never stops in John Wick: Chapter 4. Moment-to-moment fight choreography is as thrilling as ever but the set-pieces don’t have enough variety to sustain their jumbo size.” With this being said, Farley’s light dissent is certainly in the minority, and the reviewers’ brief comments have otherwise been positive.
Praise for the film’s action has been consistent, but it seems there is one action sequence in particular that has particularly impressed critics, with Insider’s Kirsten Acuna raving “There’s one action sequence I kept thinking about long after the film ended that’s SO well made. Wanted to rewind and rewatch it instantly. Definitely going to be a fan-favourite”, with Brandon Davis at ComicBook.com potentially referencing the same scene, saying “Chad Stahelski also upped his game and dropped one of my favourite action scenes, ever. You’ll know it.” While I would initially have thought them to be referencing the much-anticipated action sequence on the Étoile roundabout surrounding Paris’ Arv De Triomphe, but another critic, Jeff Ewing, notes that “There are some truly jaw-dropping scenes, and you’ll never look at stairs the same way again”, so I am again uncertain. The takeaway here is that there are likely so many breathtaking actions sequence in John Wick: Chapter 4 that critics can’t settle on any one scene.
One thing they can agree upon, however, is the strength of its story and characters, both old and new. The greatest amount of praise goes to Hong Kong action legend Donnie Yen, who Jeff Ewing, right after praising the film’s action, called “exceptional”, and he is by no means alone in his praise, with numerous critics singling Yen out, portraying a blind assassin in the movie (interestingly enough, he also played a blind force-wielder in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) and an old friend of John Wick. Critics are also quick to praise acclaimed musician Rina Sawayama, who makes her feature film debut in the movie. Of course, critics were also impressed by the rest of the cast, which is stacked, including returning cast members of Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne and Lance Reddick, and newcomers Bill Skarsgård, Scott Adkins, Clancy Brown, Natalia Tena, and Toronto’s own Shamier Anderson (brother of Stephan James, who played the lead in Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk).
Such a positive response to the latest addition to the John Wick franchise will no doubt have fans clamouring for the theatres upon its release on March 24th, and although the critics who have seen the movie say that it does a good job of closing out the story that’s been told since 2014, Kirsten Acuna did also note that while John Wick: Chapter 4 does feature “Lots of surprises”, she also reckons that it’s “going to deliver a divisive ending.” While that remains to be seen, we can at least rest assured that whatever the ending may be, it is surely nothing that the already announced fifth instalment can’t address.