john wick 4If there is one thing you can say about the JOHN WICK movies, they are reliable. Like a comfortable black suit made of Kevlar that you put on when you are trying to avoid an organization of elite assassins, you slip right in and feel right at home. And JOHN WICK CHAPTER 4 is no different.

It’s not like the movie does something that it hasn’t done before. It’s the way it executes all those gun-fu fight scenes. It’s the same, yet different. For example, in JOHN WICK 3: PARABELLUM John and Halle Berry fought their way out of an assassin’s compound using 2 dogs and a lot of guns. I don’t want to reveal too much about the set pieces in this film, but a couple of locations include a German dance club and some famous steps in Paris. The fight choreography is just amazing… the best in the business. That’s probably owed to Director Chad Stahelski, who made his bones as a stunt coordinator. Some directors don’t know how to shoot these action set pieces. Stahelski should teach a class. You are never lost; you know exactly where you are in the location and where the fighters are in relation to each other.

CHAPTER 4 does all that but takes it to another level with some absolute dream casting. Martial arts movie legends Donnie Yen (Chirrut Imwe in Rogue One) and Hiroyuki Sonada (too many recent credits to mention. Google him) are here. Yen is Caine, who apparently was some kind of mentor/partner to John and is now trying to kill him. He is blind and there is one particular fight scene with him that is a genius of staging and choreography. Sonanda runs the Osaka Continental. Internet star/influencer Rina Sawayama plays Sonada’s daughter and is the concierge of his Contiental. This is apparently her first acting gig, and she crushes it. I need a movie just about her character’s backstory. Scott Adkins is a name I never knew before. He is a huge star in his native Great Britain and Europe starring in a whole list of action movies that I don’t think ever made it to the U.S. Here Adkins is in a fat suit trying to kill John. Who isn’t trying to kill John? Shamier Anderson is another assassin trying to kill John. He’s another actor who I didn’t know but should be in more stuff. And what would a John Wick movie be without a dog? Anderson’s “partner” is just fantastic.

All these characters/actors are great. But the motivating villain, the guy who is tasked with killing John Wick for the High Table is The Marquis. And the casting of Bill Skarsgard in that role is simply genius. He is a little odd looking, skinny and tall with sharp features that make him look evil without even trying. Skarsgard does a kind of French (maybe Creole?) accent here that is mustache twirlingly great. It takes the character from the usual villain to Bond-level. I really like Michael Nyquist as the Russian mob boss in the first Wick movie, but I think Skarsgard is just better. The High Table is kind of an amorphous figure in Chapters 2 and 3. Sure there are main assassins trying to kill John, but this time casting such a dynamic and unique actor made the bad guy more villainous and gives The High Table a face for us to root against. No matter how great the hero is, no matter how much we like John Wick, a great villain just makes the whole enterprise that much better.

There are also our old favorites. Ian McShane as Winston, Laurence Fishburne as The Bowery King and the late great Lance Reddick as Charon.

While Chapter 3 was a bit messy and sometimes had motivations that were hard to keep track of, things have been streamlined here. John must kill The Marquis to finally be free of The High Table. But we don’t come to a John Wick movie necessarily for the plot. I mean we have to know his motivations, but the audience is here for the fights. Keanu Reeves gets the assignment. Maybe he’s getting a bit old for this kind of movie, but he’s still great at it. He is believable as a fighter and assassin. It’s quite easy to get on his side.

You may be put off by the nearly 3 hour run time. If it’s all action, then it would be exhausting. But Stahelski paces it out right. Even the slow bits are entertaining. I found the development of Yen’s Caine quite interesting, and Sawayama’s Akira just grabbed the screen.

All the killing and bloodletting is probably not for everyone. I can take it or leave it depending on how well it is done. The JOHN WICK movies are the gold standard. Stahelski and company have created their own franchise and even the lesser movies are wildly entertaining (I’d rank them 1, 4, 2, 3). If a movie can do that then I think there’s very little to complain about.

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