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Column: John Wick 4 takes the icy action hero to the peak of the action genre

Keanu Reeves as John Wick in "John Wick: Chapter 4." Reeves recently stated that contrary to rumors, he is, in fact, mortal. "Yeah, man, I age," he said. "It's happening, man." Photo Courtesy of Murray Close/Lionsgate/TNS.

Nearly four years since the franchise's last entry premiered in theaters, the anticipation building before the release of "John Wick: Chapter 4" last Friday was reaching its breaking point.

And I am more than happy to report that the series has not only met expectations, its potential finale may very well be one of the greatest action films ever made.

The John Wick franchise has always been known for its own particular brand of action: expertly choreographed combat, tantalizingly imaginative takedowns, daring stunts and enough firepower to invade a small country. Its fourth installment builds on an already impressive foundation and takes it to new heights. 

The film takes its namesake protagonist on a journey around the world to search for allies to help him take down the High Table, a nebulous organization that creates the rules under which the universe's global network of assassins operate. 

Keanu Reeves' portrayal of Wick is as cool and steely as ever. And the performances around him shouldn't be overlooked either.

Donnie Yen was outstanding as Caine, one of the film's antagonists, always making sure to impart a nonchalant air to killing sprees that rival Wick's and pairing it with personality and comedic flair. Laurence Fishburne's intimidating bombast brought the Bowery King to life. And Rina Sawayama's performance as the daughter and concierge of the Osaka Continental's manager is garnering buzz all across Hollywood. 

Wick's search for freedom from his obligations to the Table takes him from New York to Osaka, Berlin and Paris — sets that are not only meticulously orchestrated, but that allow for Wick and those around him to interact with them in ways rarely seen in other action movies. Ancient swords and nunchucks in an Osaka museum exhibit are used mid-fight. A rowdy club in Berlin (yes, of course there's a club scene) becomes a mazy arena for a fight with a German mob boss. The staircase to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre become a full-on gauntlet. 

The directing by Chad Stahelski has also taken a massive step up, with some of it being downright inspirational. 

The scene that immediately comes to mind is the fight in the abandoned building in Paris late in the movie's final act. Early on in the scene, the camera pans upward to an overhead shot — a satisfyingly smooth-as-silk transition that literally had me crawling up the back of my seat in excitement — and follows Wick and his foes from above as he makes his way through its myriad rooms, hallways and floors. 

The shot has been compared to the video game "Hotline Miami," but Stahelski said he actually drew inspiration from the similar, but lesser known, game "The Hong Kong Massacre." Regardless, it brings an inventive angle (literally!) that is not only refreshing but allows you to truly appreciate the scale of the action on screen. And it's incredible. 

Technically, the film has done even more to center the action than its predecessors — and that's a high bar. 

Fluid transitions and camera panning that avoid distracting the viewer. Editing that effectively sends viewers across the room about as quickly as the bullets being fired. Lens flares and vivid, colorful cinematography that accent the characters' surroundings to highlight the beauty and the detail that makes their craft so unique.

The production team's attention to detail was also stunning. 

The music choices were always in line with the film's setting, with taiko drums thundering in Osaka and French house accents from Justice and Gessaffelstein in Paris. Caine picked up a pencil in a Paris cafe and used it later in a fight, a callback to the famous story of Wick killing three men with a pencil. The call sign for the radio station in Paris that broadcasts Wick's location to bounty hunters is WUXIA, a reference to the Chinese fiction genre that revolves around martial arts heroes.

The writing and plot for this final installment have been fleshed out far more than any of its predecessors, and this is to make room for more a more expansive look at the inner workings of High Table, an organization that had previously been shrouded in mystery. But it's just as sharp, witty and incisive as it's always been, which pairs with the diabolically delicious action to make an intimidating 2 hour and 49 minute runtime breeze by. 

Still, they take a back seat. It's likely that Reeves had more kills on screen than lines of dialogue. And you know what? Hell yeah. 

Everything is done in service of the film's action — that's really the greatest strength of the John Wick franchise. 

It knows what it is and doesn't try to be anything it isn't. It takes what works and expands upon it, potentially closing out one of the greatest action franchises ever with an entry that will not soon be forgotten. 

And thank God for that. 


@guimolero | @dthopinion

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