'John Wick 4' a stellar, action-packed marvel
If, like a cat, John Wick has nine lives, I suppose we have five films to go. In “John Wick: Chapter 4,” John, who stays in fighting shape by pounding his bloody knuckles into a wooden plank wrapped in rope, gets a chance to redeem himself in a fatal showdown with one of his only friends. That the friend, whose name is Caine in an apparent tribute to the hero played by David Carradine in the groundbreaking 1970s-era TV series “Kung Fu,” is played by Boston’s own Donnie Yen is one of the film’s strongest suits. Yen (“Rogue One:
A Star Wars Story”) is a serious delight as a darkly funny, world-weary fighter of almost super-heroic ability, who wears aviator glasses, dresses in stylish suits and carries a cane that is also a sword. Caine is just too cool for words.
Scripted by action specialists Shay Hatten and Michael Finch, the film begins when the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) invokes Dante’s “Divine Comedy” with the words, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” Some may wonder if that is a reference to the film’s 2 hour, 49-minute running time. That’s a lot of lost hope and dead souls, although I did not keep count. In this installment, John makes his entrance in scenes evoking none other than “Lawrence of Arabia.”
“John Wick: Chapter 4” Rated: R. At the AMC Boston Common, AMC South Bay and suburban theaters
“No prisoners,” indeed.
Continental Hotel manager Winston (the inimitable Ian McShane) is given an hour to evacuate his hotel which is explosively razed by the “Frenchman” known as Marquis (Bill Skarsgard, aka Pennywise of “It”), a soft-spoken dandy who leads the mysterious High Table. In these scenes we also encounter the hotel’s concierge, played by the sincerely missed, recently deceased Lance Reddick (“The Wire”).
In scenes set in Osaka, Japan, where the night wind is laden with cherry blossoms, John is holed up in another hotel run by Shimazu Koji (Japanese actor and martial artist Hiroyuki Sanada, “47 Ronin”) and his daughter Akira (Japanese-British pop star Rina Sawayama, displaying serious martial arts prowess). When the Marquis sends his endless hordes of assassins — an important, nightmarish element in the film — Koji, Akira, John Wick and rogue fighter Caine leap into bloody action.
Like the previous “John Wick” films, also directed by former stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski, “John Wick: Chapter 4” delivers mayhem matching Hong Kong’s John Woo and Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” films in terms of speed, ferocity and ballet-like choreography. Keanu Reeves, 58, puts on an incredible display, editing and stunt doubles aside. Utilizing his “slow-talking” ability to transform the word, “Yeah,” into a virtual, multi-syllable haiku, Reeves. whose hair is not happy unless it is in his face, is a true screen icon as Wick. With his black vestments, funereal demeanor and all the film’s Catholic elements, including the High Table’s flair for Latin, widower Wick suggests a unstoppable warrior priest, slicing through the armies of hell like a rag drenched in ammonia. He bounces, too.
In another reference to “Kung Fu,” Wick burns a tattoo into his arm by holding it against a red hot pot. Also in the mix is a relentless “tracker” named “Nobody” (Canadian Shamier Anderson), who has a beloved “puppy” that may remind some of the pit bull owned by Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” In addition to an ending recalling “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” we find ourselves in many churches in “John Wick 4.” But among the holiest sites are the Louvre and Paris’s Opera Garnier, the place where a certain Phantom did his dirty deeds. This “John Wick” may be long. But the shootout in the roundabout at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe is a deadly, whirling, action-movie marvel that is not to be missed.
(“John Wick: Chapter 4” contains profanity and a ridiculous amount of violence)