Will there be a fifth installment in the “John Wick” franchise? It’s a bit murky.
While there once had been talk of shooting a fourth and fifth “Wick” back to back, that didn’t happen. Plus, series director Chad Stahelski recently said he and star Keanu Reeves are “done for the moment” and that they’re going to give the character “a rest.”
Well, Stahelski directs and Reeves performs in “John Wick: Chapter 4” — in theaters this week — as if this is indeed their going-away party.
With a runtime that, if you include the closing credits, sniff three hours, “Chapter 4” is an action romp that’s over-the-top even by “Wick”-ian standards.
There’s so much fighting.
Even if you appreciate the elaborate and undeniably impressive choreography of the fight scenes that are the calling card of these movies, you may feel a bit pummeled by “Chapter 4.” Not as beaten as Reeve’s titular assassin-turned-angel of revenge — John is punched, kicked, stabbed, shot and, repeatedly, hit by cars — but at least a bit worn out.
That’s not really the issue, however. What is? The dialogue and, to what degree there is one, the plot.
“John Wick” debuted in 2014 telling a simple story with a fun little hook involving a hotel, The Continental, that catered to criminals and where no “business” — aka assassinations — could be conducted.
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The two entries that followed, “John Wick: Chapter 2” (2017) and 2019’s “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum,” have greatly fleshed out this world but not for the better. This series has become quite comfortable swimming in nonsensical waters.
Things have grown increasingly cartoonish as John has fallen further and further out of favor with The High Table, a council of 12 crime lords governing the underworld. That oversight seems necessary as it sometimes appears as if maybe half the people on a city street at any given time are assassins waiting to cash in on a big bounty.
“Chapter 4” brings back familiar faces such as Winston (Ian McShane, “Deadwood”), the owner of the New York Continental, and Charon, (the recently deceased Lance Riddick in one of his final performances), his loyal concierge. It also introduces a handful of one-dimensional figures: The High Table’s sadistic frontman, the Marquis (Bill Skarsgård of the “It” movies); The Harbinger (Clancy Brown, “The Shawshank Redemption”), a High Table operative whose mere arrival signals bad news; and The Tracker (Shamier Anderson, “Invasion”), who’s out for a big payout for killing John but who also shares his love for Man’s Best Friend, going about his business alongside his obedient Belgian Malinois.
Last but not least is Caine (Donnie Yen), a longtime friend who must turn on John after The High Table threatens to harm his daughter. Just as he did in 2016’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” Yen, a star of Hong Kong cinema, portrays a blind man. However, Caine’s lack of sight does not hamper him in a fight, and those between John and him are among the movie’s highlights.
As long as they’re trying to kill each other, however reluctantly, the viewer is spared the painfully tired verbal exchanges and cliched declarations made by myriad characters. For instance, “Chapter 4” is long enough that there’s time for more than one character to announce, “And so it begins.”
But … when will it end?
End it does, eventually, but not before we get one heckuva physical performance from Reeves, who’s known for doing much of his own stunt work in the series. Reeves will never dazzle with dialogue — and he’s never asked to in this franchise, which makes the most of his particular martial arts-enhanced set of skills.
Furthermore, you can count on the series to give you something you’ve never seen before. In “Chapter 4,” that’s a fight between John and a large-and-colorful killer named Killa (Scott Atkins, “Day Shift”) at a pulsating Berlin nightclub. Let’s just say a bit of water doesn’t stop any of the frivolity — neither the fighting nor the dancing. (And, obviously, the fact that a potentially deadly fight is happening among the partiers doesn’t bring an end to their ongoing merriment.)
The final fury-filled act of “Chapter 4” — and possibly the series — takes place in Paris, the shoot making violent-and-chaotic use of a couple of very recognizable locations. Like the movie as a whole, it’s fun stuff, but there’s too much of it.
If this is the last of “John Wick,” it almost certainly won’t be the end of its universe, with development continuing on a streaming series revolving around The Continental and a movie in which Ana de Armas (“No Time to Die”) is set to take over the role of the assassin the Ballerina, introduced in “Parabellum.”
“Chapter 4” should more than tie fans over until whatever comes next.
Whatever you think of this movie, you’re not going to feel short-changed.
‘John Wick: Chapter 4’
When: March 24.
Rated: R for pervasive strong violence and some language.
Runtime: 2 hours, 49 minutes.
Stars (of four): 2.5.
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