“John Wick: Chapter 4” – One thousand assassins dead, a zillion more to go.
“Once you kill him, then what?” a friend asks John Wick (Keanu Reeves). Great question. In the never-ending kill-box that is the John Wick universe, that question is the only time the franchise seems to realize that it has yet to include any kind of coherent plot. The first movie at least had a motivation for all the killings, as weak as that motivation was. Conversely, the sequels have all been bloodbaths solely for the sake of well-choreographed, long-cut bloodbaths, predicated on a vague set of rules that nobody has bothered to spell out. As far as we know, the answer to “then what” is more sequels with more killing because that’s the only thing that happens in Wick-land.
(SPOILER ALERT – LOL.)
At the end of JW3, NY Continental Hotel Manager Winston (Ian McShane) shot John off the top of the hotel and the inexplicably-not-dead John is spirited away in secret to the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), who was also left for dead. JW4 starts off with one of the worst openings I’ve ever seen – John punches a board wrapped in rope, the Bowery King walks and shouts his way to John’s secret location, and terrible music overlays it all. Once there, the Bowery King shouts, “is the king ready?” and holds up a new suit for John. The camera quickly zooms in on John, then cuts to the title screen. Embarrassing barely scratches the surface when describing this atrocity of a scene.
Shooting John was supposed to clear Winston in the eyes of the Who The Fuck Is The High Table, but arbitrary assassin rule ID.10.T states “LOL. JK.” Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard) punishes Winston by blowing up the NY Continental and killing his concierge Charon (Lance Reddick). Just like Santino blowing up John’s house in JW2, destroying the NY Continental seems like the dumbest possible way to coerce people in the assassin industry to help you.
This scene is also where we meet the Harbinger (Clancy Brown), another High Table representative who is half umpire, half lawyer. Another running theme of the Wick-iverse is barely defined characters, and Harbinger is tissue paper thin. Considering how supposedly inviolate the rules of this world are, I thought Harbinger, The Umpire Lawyer, was going to restore order and enforce the rules. Instead, he proves to be meaningless.
Cut to the Osaka Continental Hotel, where manager Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada) is going about his duties with his concierge/daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama). Yet again, we are presented with a Continental Hotel manager (the fourth, by my count), who shirks the consequences of breaking the rules to help John. Plus, we have Gramont’s men conducting business on hotel grounds, which is supposedly the most hallowed rule of them all, casually deeming the hotel no longer sacred ground simply because they suspect John might be there. Remember, the franchise’s entire *ahem* plot is based on John being hunted for breaking rules, yet over and over we see different parties breaking rules and betraying each other. As Chandler once said on Friends, “the rules are…there are no rules.”
Since the screenplays of the entire franchise can fit on a single coaster with room to spare, that leaves nearly the entire running time for action sequences. The good news is the quality of these scenes is still very good. They are still exquisitely choreographed and shot with long takes to give the audience what they came for. The bad news is the action scenes go on forever, bludgeoning the audience with them even more than in JW3. Imagine playing a first-person shooter video game with no cut scenes. Just waves and waves of enemies across multiple locations for the movie’s runtime of 169 minutes. That is not a typo. JW4 is nearly three hours long, but feels closer to thirteen.
While I am a big fan of great action scenes, every one of them was at least ten minutes too long. Again, that is not a typo. There are four major action scenes that wallow in bloodshed, each more tedious than the last as they stretch on into oblivion. I became so bored during them that all I could think about was where the hell were all these assassins coming from. And why. JW1 and JW2 established John Wick as a terrifying and near-mythical assassin known to everyone. Yet, the moment a contract on his life is put out there, literally every assassin in the world tries to kill him. I would have loved to see just one assassin look at their phone and go “meh, no.”
To be fair, an assassin called Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson) kind of says no to the contract. This is not satisfying. I’ll skip the descriptions and just tell you that Mr. Nobody has a killer dog as a partner and some other assassin dude that joins them is blind. That is all. Pew, pew, pew. Stab, stab, stab.
Like the Scream and Fast and Furious franchises, John Wick has abandoned competent writing in favor of indulgent fan service. How does John survive dozens of bad guys shooting at him? He holds his ballistic suit jacket in front of him. Why do bad guys immediately die when hit by a car, but John can walk away from the same? Because he’s the main character. How is the NY Continental still standing after we literally see it demolished from Gramont’s window? Physics. Silly stuff like that plus zero character development and no plot is why I stopped being amused by this franchise before the credits rolled in JW1.
And so we come back to that original question – now what? The end of JW4 seemingly wraps up the kill-John-Wick-for-breaking-the-rules plot (I’m not spoiling if John dies or not, but the duel at the end gives John his freedom from being hunted, dead or alive). It would be naive to think Lionsgate won’t make JW5 if JW4 makes a profit (there are two spin-offs in the works as well). It would also be naïve to think that in this barely developed, contradictory assassin world there isn’t another person with a grudge against John or IOU from John that can be turned into seven more hours of John mowing down hundreds of other assassins. But if my phone does chirp with a message that JW5 is coming, I might just have to say “meh, no.”
Rating: Ask for seventeen dollars and your coaster back.