With Chapter 3, I cautioned that the John Wick franchise was on the verge of diminishing returns through familiar repetition; in Chapter 4 it collapses under the weight of its High Table mythology in an overwrought and charmless instalment that runs to nearly three hours. Visual style remains front and centre with fighting figures silhouetted against beautifully lit Japanese decor in Osaka before moving to a Berlin rave, slick with cascading water and neon. The action choreography contains plenty of impressive moments and attention to detail, like a body pivoting on an arrow-pinned joint, but they are strung together in a manner more exhausting than entertaining, with little sense of fighting through interconnected spaces. With better editing, much of the first hour could be excised. Atrocious dialogue belabours the flimsy plot (“It looks like we have a conundrum. A quandary, if you will. A real life dilemma.”), though some new faces are welcome — Bill Skarsgård’s sneering French villain is easy to loathe, whilst Donnie Yen offers the charisma that Wick seems to have lost, playing a blind assassin with largely nonsensical combat abilities. The last hour of the film soars: a kinetic chase across Paris to Sacré-Cœur displays some of the best driving stunt choreography in recent memory, and a lengthy fight up and down the stairs to the church shows Wick earning every step. This strong closing may explain the predominantly positive response to a lumbering action film at nearly twice the length of this year’s similarly stylised Sisu. For all the merit of its individual moments, I cannot imagine wanting to sit through Chapter 4 again.
“Nothing’s ever just a conversation with you, John.”
John Wick: Chapter 3 picks up right where Chapter 2ended, with John excommunicated from the cult-like order of assassins and a $14 million bounty placed on his head. Like its predecessor, the approach is very much more of the same brutal action, though it fixes a few flaws with fights lit more brightly and easier to follow. Parabellum (literally “prepare for war”) briefly moves the action to the middle east — with heavy overtones of the Assassin’s Creed franchise — but this diversion serves to confuse rather than expand the High Table mythos, becoming ultimately redundant as Wick returns to New York. A welcome change is the number of prominent female roles, Halle Berry proving her action chops in a fight I dubbed “revenge of the dogs”. John Wick‘s strength is a po-faced delivery whilst not taking itself seriously (“What do you need?” / “Guns, lots of guns”, says Keanu Reeves, repeating his line from The Matrix two decades earlier). This is a film in which he can ride a horse through the streets of New York whilst battling bikers. Despite this, a sense of familiar repetition is creeping into the series suggesting that we are on the verge of diminishing returns.
“I can assure you that the stories you hear about John Wick, if nothing else, have been watered down.”
Much like The Raid 2, this overlong sequel provides more of the same high-octane action but strives to tell a wider story at the expense of its predecessor’s tight focus. Now the retired hitman is forced back into work to repay a debt, before a double-cross leaves him in the crosshairs of every assassin in New York, leading to a more familiar trail of vengeance. John Wick was a refreshing surprise for its stylised and visceral action. Chapter 2 serves up more of the same, although it is not always successful, like the repetitive and geographically confusing extended sequence in the catacombs of Rome, with visibility reduced to black and blues. John Wick works best as a character focused on single-minded revenge rather than as a cerebral professional, in part because the close quarters violence often veers toward the nasty. The ridiculous codified assassin mythos expands beyond The Continental hotel run by Ian McShane, one of the best additions being a cameo from Peter Serefinewicz as a “sommelier” discussing Wick’s predilections.