After three thrilling movies starring a hypnotically-Zen Keanu Reeves as the hitman who treats kung fu fighting like a dance tableau, "John Wick: Chapter 4" asks the question: Can this blockbuster franchise still muster the talent and vision to top itself? Short answer: Hell, yeah!
Back in 2014 when the Wick man first hit theaters, I defined the threadbare plot in the length of a tweet: Keanu Reeves plays a killer. His wife dies of cancer. Thugs steal his 1969 Mustang and kill his puppy. He gets mad. People die, badly.
That summary still holds even when supersized with complications that swell the running time from under two hours to the butt-numbing 169 minutes of "Chapter 4." Did this sequel need to be the longest "Wick" ever? Nah. But the payoff explodes with fireworks you'll never forget.
It's been four years (and a pandemic) since Wick strutted his stuff on screen. When we left off in "John Wick: Chapter 3 -- Parabellum," this anti-hero was in deep doo-doo for killing an enemy at the Continental, a chic Manhattan hotel for assassins run by Winston (a stellar Ian McShane), who makes sure blood is never spilled on the premises.
For breaking that rule, Wick is excommunicated from his crime family with a target on his back. In "Chapter 4," Winston and his loyal concierge (Lance Reddick, an actor of grit and grace who died at 60 on March 17) are told the the Continental will be smashed to smithereens. Boom!
There's no way that Wick can hide from the High Table, a kind of global mafia run by the Marquis (a menacing Bill Skarsgård, Pennywise the Clown from the "It" franchise), who hires the Tracker (Shamier Anderson) and his killer dog to bring down Wick. I was nearly brought down by Skarsgård saying every line in zee worst French accent in modern cinema.
Even Laurence Fishburne -- Morpheus to Reeves' Neo in "The Matrix" -- can't use his power as king of the Bowery bums to assist. Wick's only avenue of escape is to challenge the Marquis to a duel. If Wick wins, he's home free. The catch is that the shifty Marquis is permitted by High Table law to bring in a substitute to do his fighting for him.
That would be Wick's old friend Caine (the great Hong Kong legend Donnie Yen), a blind assassin with the reflexes of an Olympian, who lines up against Wick when the High Table threatens to kill Caine's daughter if he doesn't comply. What's Wick to do?
Hold on for the massacre, like the rest of us. Returning director Chad Stahelski, a stunt double for Reeves on "The Matrix," stages the death matches with a choreographic skill that raises the bar on visual miracles as the movie zooms from New York and Osaka to Berlin and Paris.
Of the 14 knockout scenes of Wick against the world through martial arts and vehicular homicide, plus guns, arrows, swords and whatever, the highlights are too numerous to mention. Is it the Berlin nightclub battle between Wick and the gold-toothed Killa (MMA fighter Scott Adkins) or the overhead shot of an apartment complex in which every room teems with war?
Best of the best is surely the chase through the streets of Paris near the Arc de Triomphe and later on the perilously steep steps leading up to the Sacré Coeur, where Wick repeatedly falls only to rise again to save the day that never seems to end.
Wick-haters find only monotony in this carnival of carnage. They're missing the surreal artistry that always shines through. Though the body count is off the charts, don't worry about our boy, not with "Chapter 5" already in the planning stage. The kick of "Wick" is not to be denied.