“John Wick: Chapter 4” is an Ode to Joy, Violence, and the Human Body


Keanu Reeves in John Wick: Chapter 4. Screengrab from official trailer.

For years, brave individuals have risked their lives for cinematic stunt work, putting their body through hell for jaw-dropping action set pieces. Some have lost their lives to the profession, while others have seen their work eviscerated through sloppy editing and poor direction. Few jobs are as thankless, and many within the field spend their career in mainstream obscurity. 

Thankfully, veteran stunt-performer-turned-filmmaker Chad Stahelski has overcome these obstacles and created an action franchise that honors his craft. With his gifted team of entertainers, Stahelski has given us the John Wick tetralogy, a passionate love letter to the medium. With crisp camerawork, dedicated performances, and mind-blowing stunts, this series has proven to be a form of cinematic nirvana for action movie fans across the globe. And John Wick: Chapter 4 may just be the crowning jewel of what was already our generation’s finest blockbuster saga.

Keanu Reeves stars as John Wick, a silent assassin forced out of retirement after suffering a brutal loss. Seeking revenge against some pathetic punks, he returns to the Continental, a safe haven for contract killers, and our first taste of the franchise’s unique world. Assassins follow strict rules within the John Wick universe, frequently pigeon-holed by honor and bureaucracy. Once he’s gotten his vengeance, John spends the rest of the series trying to escape this realm of elegant violence, killing with everything at his disposal in hopes of becoming a free man.

The franchise’s newest film starts with John at his lowest point, excommunicated from the Continental. He’s the most wanted man across the globe, on the run from a powerful bureaucrat (Bill Skarsgard) and his legion of mercenaries. Desperate and out of options, John embarks across the globe to earn his freedom, coming to blows with two rival hitmen along the way.  

Caine (Donnie Yen), an old friend, is a blind hitman who must kill John or lose his daughter. Meanwhile, the large bounty catches the eye of Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson), a calculating gunman tracking John throughout his journey. These three assassins come head to head in what proves to be some of cinema’s greatest action set pieces.   

John Wick: Chapter 4 is first and foremost a vehicle for superhuman stunt work. And as a vehicle for superhuman stunt work, this is one of the finest action extravaganzas of the decade. Every impact, whether it be from a punch, kick, or fall, is caught convincingly on camera. The stunt team’s commitment to complex blocking provides these fight scenes an almost-balletic finesse, for the filmmakers don’t need to resort to CGI or shaky-cam to accentuate violence. Stahelski films their work with utmost respect, capturing the action in gorgeous wide shots while staging the battlefield with beautifully stylized cinematography. 

While the first John Wick proved that he’s always been a skilled action director, Stahelski has grown exponentially as a visual stylist throughout this franchise. Working with cinematographer Dan Lausten, Stahelski has developed a unique mise en scene defined by a bold color palette and crisp camerawork, and Chapter 4 showcases his style at its peak. 

This is a gorgeous looking film, possibly one of the great pop spectacles of the 21st century. The colors leap off the screen, at times recalling the aesthetic vibrancy of Japanese animation. Yet Stahelski’s compositions draw clear comparison from spaghetti westerns and classic samurai features, showing off the beauty of Chapter 4’s set design through immaculate framing that captures the world’s full scale. And of course, the action is shot to perfection, never obscuring the stunt work in favor of cheap stylization. 

Keanu Reeves close-up
Keanu Reeves in John Wick: Chapter 4. Screengrab from official trailer.

Eye candy isn’t all this movie has going for it, for Chapter 4 provides a wide array of memorable characters throughout its epic runtime. This film solidifies John Wick as one of THE great action heroes of our time, thanks in no small part to Keanu Reeves’ committed performance. Not only does he throw everything he has into the stunt work, but Reeves gives the role legitimate depth. You feel John’s exhaustion and rage thanks to the incredible physicality Reeves brings to the character. 

However, this is not a one man show, for there are plenty of juicy supporting roles littered throughout this film. Shamier Anderson makes a strong case for future roles as Mr. Nobody, delivering a sly, understated performance with a wry sense of humor. Bill Skarsgard delivers as a truly detestable antagonist, while powerhouse actors like Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, and Scott Adkins have a ball chewing the scenery every chance they get.

 It’s Donnie Yen who stands out here, delivering the best work he’s ever done outside of China. Caine is fascinating to watch both as a character and performance, with Yen delivering some absolutely incredible fight choreography. But even when punches aren’t being thrown, Yen’s charisma lights up the screen, stealing the show from his equally charismatic co-stars. His magnetic confidence and effortless suave simply demand your attention. I would sell my left arm to see more of Caine in a spin-off, for Yen builds a character just as compelling as John Wick himself with just a fraction of the screen time.

John Wick: Chapter 4 is nearly three hours of pure cinematic bliss, an action fan’s wildest dreams brought to fruition. What Stahelski and his team have done here is nothing short of a miracle, gifting us the most impressive tentpole blockbuster we’ve had in the past five years. What these people can do with their bodies is nothing less than superhuman, and I’m so glad their dedication was captured with such poignant cinematic artistry. Those in search of a visual thrill ride really can’t do much better than John Wick: Chapter 4, and honestly might not be able to for some time.