The Ballet of Bullets: ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ Review

Clean Visuals, Blistering Action, Cutting-Edge Stuntwork

To be self-aware is a feat of wonder in this day and age. Even more wondrous is when a movie or TV show knows what it is and, with that understanding, elevates its form. The ‘shoot‘em up’ is not a new thing and even the movie Shoot’Em Up can’t measure up to the juggernaut that is John Wick. If you think this is still about a man and his murdered dog, you’re dead wrong. John Wick: Chapter 4 is trying to do the impossible: to elevate the shoot ’em up genre with a world as rich and dynamic as it is mysterious.

From Blacklisted to Blockbuster in the Black

Let’s keep it really real, the entirety of what John Wick is wouldn’t even have existed if not for Keanu being blacklisted by Fox for not doing a Speed sequel. That path led to smaller roles here and there for close to thirteen years, but really landing a project that brought the same prestige The Matrix did. It’s remarkable to see where the Wick franchise is now, but in order to appreciate it you’ve got to know how it came to be. After being blacklisted, Reeves and the stunt team from The Matrix struck out and started building from scratch.

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Keanu Reeves as the titular John Wick. Image courtesy of Lionsgate, 2023

Chad Stahelski, who has directed each of the four John Wick movies (the first alongside David Leitch), is best known as Keanu’s stunt double since The Matrix and for forming one of the greatest stunt companies in the industry, Smashcut. Between Street Kings, 47 Ronin, and Man of Tai Chi (Reeve’s directorial debut, no less) you get the infrastructure of what makes John Wick. The gritty gunplay, the martial arts drama, the parse dialogue. In reality, the success of this franchise is already written in the hits and misses of movies of this ragtag crew. They had some industry advantages, but Keanu and this creative team essentially made a way out of no way with the first Wick installment and pushed to make a deep cultural impact. And now, the review.

How You do Anything is How You do Everything

John Wick: Chapter 4 has no clever tagline. Visually, it looks like every other entry in the franchise, and it never fails to impress. The high contrast of futuristic neon lights alongside old city architecture is the epitome of the franchise’s aesthetic, and the cinematography is on point. But let’s get it straight out the gate, Keanu says three-hundred and eighty words throughout the film – we ain’t here for Academy award-nominated writing. Chapter 4 goes hard in the paint with the visuals and still manages to up the ante with every entry. Most important to John Wick is the camera work.

From the first moment those Russian goons entered John’s home, we’ve watched Keanu disassemble nameless and faceless henchmen with elaborate holds, submissions, and double taps. All of it happens smoothly and is so well rehearsed that it takes on an efficiency that the series is known for. Pushing the shoot ’em up genre forward takes a lot of moving pieces, to catch those on camera is difficult. Y’all. There are a few one-shot action sequences in Chapter 4 that are literally a ballet of bullets. Certainly, there are some action films that have pointless violence in their choreography. Not here. Toward the end of the movie is an overhead one-take tracking shot that immediately sits as one of the all-time greatest action sequences. Even if it’s stitched together ala Birdman, it’s a brilliant piece of action cinema.

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Donnie Yen as the blind assassin Caine. Image courtesy of Lionsgate, 2023

Just Have Fun Out There

Where John Wick: Chapter 4 falls short is the one place where it swings for the fence hardest. Fleshing out the world of the Assassin’s Guild was the gift and the curse. As a mysterious and shadowy organization with undefined rules and a skewed moral compass, the Guild was compelling and gripping. As each movie fleshed that aspect out further, the less compelling it became – it behaves like a pre-baked ‘deus ex machina’ for getting John from point A to point Z. The twists and turns make this world, and its rules, less important which puts more focus on the action scenes to move the plot. Add the sparse dialogue and you get something rare and particular to a few movies: a visual language of violence.

It Was an Honor, My Friend

Keanu Reeves is a machine, no pun intended. At fifty-eight years of age and having started martial arts training at thirty-three, it makes no sense that he’s still going full throttle with this multi-disciplinary fight style. Logic be damned, he’s out here doing it. Not much dialogue on his part but Wick’s broody determination and unstoppable will is in lockstep with Keanu’s, and he brings it.

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Charon (Lance Reddick) is at the ready. Image courtesy of Lionsgate, 2023

Ian McShane and Lance Reddick return as the Manager, Winston, and the Concierge, Charon. They each deliver their straight-laced rogues with a heart of gold true to form. We lost Lance Reddick way too soon, both in life and as Charon. Laurence Fishbourne is back once more as the Bowery King and drips with nega-Morpheus gravitas and braggadocio.

Standout performances by Donnie Yen as the blind assassin Caine, which was way more comedic and charismatic than he’s ever been in Western cinema. He steals almost every scene he’s in. Bill Skaarsgard is absolutely stellar as the antagonist, the Marquis, bordering on terrifying. Last and certainly not least is Shamier Anderson’s turn as Tracker, a newcomer to the assassin’s guild. Anderson shines and brings a whole different intensity to the franchise. He looks like someone who can get a franchise of his own, or at least carry on the work of giving The High Table a run for its’ money. It’s good to see a Black actor do their thing in a high-profile movie.

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A virtually unrecognizable Scott Adkins as Killa. Image courtesy of Lionsgate, 2023

I Know Gun-Fu

In nowhere is the visual language of violence spoken more clearly than in the intentional choices made around the stunt work. John Wick: Chapter 4 is a stuntpersons’ paradise. The levels of diversity in this movie are more representative of the world we live in than many, especially in the action genre. Goons and henchmen galore were cast across the gender and nationality spectrums, which is refreshing as an audience but also so dope for the many people who give a lot for a few seconds onscreen. For real, there’s a giant stuntman in the Osaka Continental fight scene and boy was cooking. It’s rare to see larger-framed people be anything other than punching bags in action movies. At one point, John faces off hand-to-hand with a henchwoman, and they go to work punching each other, another rarity.

On the other hand, fight movie legend Scott Adkins in prosthetics and a fat suit was a strange move, given the amount a big-bodied stunt people in the stunt world. However, it’s a marvel to see Adkins throw kicks, performing as a character with a body most folks don’t believe can move the way he does.

In the same way that The Grey Man is the new standard in spy versus spy espionage, the way Atomic Blonde is the new standard for femme fatale – John Wick is the new standard for shoot ’em ups. 

Chapter 4’s ambitious action cinematography elevates the genre, but the plot falls a little short trying to support the larger and more high-profile cast. Despite that, the brilliance of this movie’s action sequences begs the question: why aren’t there a slew of stunt awards handed out during award season? Why isn’t there more recognition and accolades for the performers whose craft and skill can make or break an entire genre? There needs to be a petition to make that happen.

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Series newcomer Shamier Anderson as Tracker.


John Wick: Chapter 4 benefits by knowing what it is and holding fast to what works. Clean visuals, blistering action, streamlined plot progression, and cutting-edge stuntwork. In an attempt to close out the franchise and flesh out its’ world, it loses out on what made it stand out – being a short and memorable movie. As per usual the movie steps up intensity and sets the stage for a new generation of assassins to carry on John’s noble cause. If Gun-Fu is a thing you’re interested in, you’re going to want to see this movie.

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  • Poet, MC, Nerd, All-Around Problem. Lover of words, verse, and geek media from The Bronx, NYC.

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