John Wick: Chapter 4 begins with a nod to Lawrence of Arabia… a scenery-munching Laurence Fishburne blows out a match, which cuts to a desert sunrise. Director Chad Stahelski’s intention is clear: John Wick is going epic.
Unfortunately, in this case, ‘epic’ translates to ‘bum-achingly long’. The latest entry in the wrung-out franchise is a whopping 2 hours and 49 minutes long. For context, that’s a full half-hour longer than Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which went from the dawn of mankind to our cosmic rebirth. Here, a bloke in a suit shoots people.
To be fair, the fight choreography is excellent. Stahelski, a seasoned stunt coordinator, allows combat scenes to play out in long takes. Unlike with so many other modern action flicks, it’s nice to be able to tell what the hell’s going on. It’s also clear that star Keanu Reeves has put in the hard work. He’s visibly doing a large chunk of the stunts himself.
But the initial excitement of the first couple of fight scenes soon wears off, as set pieces drag on for far too long. The constant gun-fu gets repetitive, even if the backdrop changes from one exotic location to the next, Street Fighter-style.
It’s curious how a series that started with a Charles Bronson-esque revenge quickie has bloated into this live-action cartoon. It’s piled on so many layers of ludicrous lore that it now resembles Harry Potter with firearms.
Despite us being four movies deep, Reeve’s Wick still feels like a blank slate. The first movie had an effective shortcut to get the audience on Wick’s side: having the baddies shoot his puppy. By this point though, there’s little left to emotionally connect with him.
The usually talented Bill Skarsgard (so unsettling in IT and Barbarian) phones it in as the big bad, digging out a generic euro voice from the Bond villain recycle bin. Martial arts star Donnie Yen is unsurprisingly great at the choreography but is lumped with the hackneyed ‘Blind Weaponmaster’ trope. Meanwhile, Scott Adkins’ fat-suited crime lord seems to have waddled in off a Dick Tracy set.
JW4 is big, dumb but is far too indulgent to remain fun. If only its editor was as merciless as Mr Wick himself.
A bloated end to a drawn-out franchise…while the choreography is initially impressive, the film can’t justify its exorbitant runtime.
John Wick is now showing at the Eden Cinemas