Saturday, October 14, 2023

Gun Fu-lish

Film: John Wick: Chapter 4
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on basement television.

When, exactly, did action movies become things that took up an entire day to watch? Take a look at the John Wick saga, by way of example. The first movie came in at a tidy 101 minutes. The sequel barely cracked the two hour barrier at 122 minutes and the third crew a little longer at 133 minutes. And now we have John Wick: Chapter 4 that comes in at a brain-melting 169 minutes, a stone’s throw from a full three hours. Why? What’s the point of making this movie a solid 45 minutes longer than it needs to be to tell its story?

I’m going to go into this under the assumption that you have seen the first three chapters in the John Wick saga. By way of quick recap, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a former assassin who left the life to live a quiet life. This was cut short when his wife succumbed to cancer. A chance encounter after that brought him out of retirement and back into a thriving underworld of crime and assassins. A badly-considered murder or two later, and Wick is on the run from the entire criminal underworld. That’s where we are in this fourth installment. With the entire criminal establishment after him and a bounty on his head, John Wick attempts to survive, even if that means buying himself back into the underworld for a third time.

Normally, when I review a movie on this website, I spend a lot of time talking about plot, mainly because it’s the ins and outs of narrative that I find the most interesting. There certainly is something like a plot in this installment of the franchise that is a bit more than “John Wick kills everyone while trying not to die,” but that sentence really does sum up the main focus. Tied into that are Wick’s friendship with Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada), who runs a five-star criminal hotel in Osaka, Koji’s daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama), and his relationship with Winston (Ian McShane), who ran a similar hotel in New York.

The film opens with that New York hotel being shut down by the new head of the criminal underworld, the Marquis Vincent Bisset de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), who issues the command through the Harbinger (Clancy Brown in a rare non-big bad guy role). To reinforce what is happening, the Marquis kills Winston’s concierge Charon (Lance Reddick). He also brings in another retired assassin, Caine (Donnie Yen) to hunt down Wick. Finally, added into the mix is Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson), an up-and-coming tracker who sees Wick as an ultimate payday.

And really, that’s it. What follows is nearly three hours of action scenes, balletic gun battles, sword fights, and a very long homage to The Warriors.

I’m going to say something now that will likely get me some flack from John Wick fanboys and action junkies: it’s too damn much. I can’t imagine watching this in a theater without having the ability to pause it and walk away from it for 15 minutes. In that respect, John Wick: Chapter 4 is reminiscent of a film like Black Hawk Down, where the noise, the combat, the explosions, the gunfire simply never stop. In that film, the constant assault on the senses was the point—it’s what makes the reality of battle become so terrible for the audience. With John Wick: Chapter 4, it’s because they can.

It's a cliché to call this a comic book, but it absolutely is. Once we get to the set-up for the final confrontation in the film—an old school duel between Wick and the Marquis, we still have a solid 50 minutes pre-credits to get through, and a substantial portion of this is a fight that takes place across the streets of Paris. The duel is set for sunrise at Sacre Couer, but if Wick is killed before that time, the killer will earn a $40 million bounty and the Marquis won’t have to fight. So, in the ensuing action of Wick trying to get to the church on time, there are going to be multiple gun battles, and John Wick is going to be hit by multiple cars and fall through multiple floors and down sets of stairs. Any of these things kill lesser men, but of course John Wick is going to make it to that duel. So in that respect, the cliché here is less that this is a comic book and more that it is a video game.

It's impossible to say this isn’t well made, because it is. It’s also very difficult for me to say that it's an enjoyable watch. I’m happy I have seen it, but a lot of that, honestly, is the fact that I don’t have to watch it again. And that’s really where I am with this. I’d sit down with John Wick without hesitation in the future, but to sit through this absolute assault on the senses a second time, I think I’d need one of those gold coins.

Why to watch John Wick: Chapter 4: It’s exactly what you think it is.
Why not to watch: It’s exactly what you think it is for almost three hours.


  1. I saw this in the theaters and it actually didn't feel like a 3-hour film as I had fun watching this as I thought it was an awesome film. Beau is Afraid on the other hand was a little-bit under 3 hours but it felt fucking long.

    1. It's just too much. This story could've been told in 100 minutes.

  2. I never got into these films but I feel like the length of this one is universally criticized.

    1. I can't stress it enough. When we get to the "they've agreed to a final showdown" moment, there's still like an hour left.

      This could easily be trimmed to 120 minutes, and with some work 100 minutes.