John Wick: Chapter 4: like a Verdi opera with nunchaku fights for arias

·3-min read
Keanu Reeves as the indestructible protagonist of John Wick: Chapter 4 - Murray Close
Keanu Reeves as the indestructible protagonist of John Wick: Chapter 4 - Murray Close

Bloat. Elephantiasis. Whatever you want to call it, the John Wick franchise has succumbed: only just shy of three hours, the latest one is a Verdi opera with nunchaku fights for arias. Twice near the end – twice! – Keanu Reeves’s woebegone hitman must climb all 222 steps to the Sacré-Coeur, despatching nearly as many foes, with a sunrise duel awaiting at the top.

The film makes one long joke of its ludicrous running time. “Let’s get this s--- over with,” snaps Donnie Yen’s fed-up fellow assassin about an eighth of the way in. He’s a blind guy with infallible reflexes who just wants to retire in peace. Good luck with that.

I may have complained that Chapter 3 (2019) was dragging its heels. This shoves the critique right back in my face, knowing that fans are unlikely to complain if an Osaka hotel raid lasts half an hour, or Reeves pummels some nameless goon 50 times instead of three, or if we circle the Arc de Triomphe so incessantly using cars as assault weapons that you’d probably stagger dizzily into a wall if you picked this moment for a loo break.

The too-muchness of Chapter 4 is its proudest quirk. Plotting and personnel, meanwhile, are the best since the first. The price on Wick’s head keeps rising – it’s set at $18m when this kicks off, which isn’t quite enough to entice the “tracker” killer played by Shamier Anderson, but will do for lesser fry. An elite group called the High Table want Wick dead already; a snooty French Marquis (Bill Skarsgård) makes Yen’s Caine an offer he can’t refuse, which is that his daughter will die if Wick does not.

Reeves is Reeves – we know the deal. So much of Skarsgård’s effort goes into his campy French accent that you wonder what was wrong with, say, Louis Garrel. But Anderson is good, Yen’s fantastic, and there’s a coiled spring of a film debut from Rina Sawayama, the nimble British-Japanese pop star jumping into the fray as the Osaka concierge.

Rina Sawayama in John Wick: Chapter 4 - Murray Close
Rina Sawayama in John Wick: Chapter 4 - Murray Close

Arguably the best part, give or take an overhead jamboree with explosively-tipped bullets, is when Wick goes clubbing in Berlin. (Berghain’s face-tattooed bouncer, Sven, pops up for a quick cameo.) While indoor water features rain down on many unperturbed ravers, Reeves gets a dance of death with the Marquis’s heavy, the aptly named Killa (Scott Adkins). He also thuds an axe into someone’s skull, topples off a viewing platform three storeys high, and yanks a gold tooth from a corpse. Basically, your standard Thursday night out in Kreuzberg.

I didn’t love the aesthetic of Chapter 4. In fact, even as the action has reached ever crazier heights, the visuals, once so poppy and arresting, have palpably deteriorated. When we’re heading for pistols at dawn, it’s bathed in such an icky green-screened sunrise you couldn’t very easily mistake all this for Barry Lyndon.

Even at practically Kubrickian length, though, the lockstep slaughter barely gives you pause for breath. It’s a barrage, and a blast.

15 cert, 169 min. In cinemas from Friday March 24