Culture Pick: “John Wick: Chapter 4” is a historically great action movie

Luke McClinton, Contributing Writer

There’s an odd dynamic to watching basketball being played at the NBA level. While one can objectively acknowledge the skill, speed and freakish athleticism on the floor, it is hard to truly conceptualize the world-class level at which everyone is operating. It is an art form being increasingly innovated by the year, and it is enthralling to watch. 

This dynamic is also present in and has become more prevalent with each passing “John Wick” movie. With “John Wick: Chapter 4,” it has reached its peak. Released on March 24, this fourth chapter has garnered a series-high 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 78 on Metacritic, and an 8.5 on IMDb. With such ratings, it is evident that holding this as the best of the four-part action-genre giant is not a unique opinion. It is not an unfounded opinion, either; “John Wick: Chapter 4” is masterful. 

The first area of unabated brilliance is what will stand out in the minds of both casual filmgoers and seasoned cinephiles. To call it “action” would be to undervalue its visual totality; “visceral” would be more apt, better describing what is a truly soul-rattling experience. The fighting and choreography are all fantastic not just in the vacuum of the action genre, but in comparison to the movie’s predecessors. The first “John Wick,” while revolutionary for its time, is a tad slow, lingering on its bloodshed and lacking in grandiose; the second and third hit their stride in terms of combining set pieces with masterful composition of movement but never have a sense of closure to contextualize it. 

This fourth outing, however, sees director Chad Stahelski, choreographer Jeremy Marinas, who has worked on over sixty movies and TV shows, and cinematographer Dan Laustsen at their technical zenith.  

The story they frame follows Keanu Reeves’ John Wick as he travels the globe in search of his freedom, which no one, not even himself, seems to know the entailments of. He rides horseback in Moroccan deserts, wields nunchucks in Japan and duels for his life in front of Paris’ Sacré-Cœur. Wherever he goes, the visuals are breathtaking, and the sound editing thrusts each physical collision deep into the viewer’s soul.  

There is a scene which particularly embodies this: it takes place at a rainy, color-bathed party in Berlin, and its combination of imagery, bass audio and character movement is one of the most hypnotizing scenes in recent action-film memory. It is the pinnacle of an indescribably beautiful and thrilling journey that spans three hours and features fights with cars, clashes going up and down a two-hundred-plus step staircase, and battles with a flamethrowing shotgun. Walking out of the theater exhausted and potentially even somewhat perspirant is completely normal, common even. 

The second most glaring success is its thematic and tonal clarity. As mentioned, “Chapter 2” and the third movie “Parabellum” are both masterful in their action, but what separates “Chapter 4” is its sense of finality. There is an ever-present inevitability throughout every scene. Given the established stakes as well as the mounting taxation upon Wick’s body, the viewer can tell that things are barreling toward some sort of conclusion.  

It is entirely unpredictable, and as such it gives the film an urgency unlike any of the previous three. Engagement is not just derived from intensity and dynamism, but through the suspense of the climax looming on the horizon. The entailments of the finale might be unclear, but the awesomeness is guaranteed. 

This ending, when it finally arrives, is every bit as epic and gratifying as the two-and-a-half-hour buildup promises. The three-film-running theme of John Wick’s immortality has made it so that viewers expect, or at the very least cautiously anticipate, the film to subvert expectations and impede his infallibility.  

As such, the last fifteen minutes are agonizing in the best way possible. No one knows what’s going to happen, and seldom was a back touching its seat in the theater. Better yet, when things finally do happen, they make perfect sense. For lack of a better term, there’s a pleasant roundness to Chapter 4’s story, a neat cohesiveness that ties the John Wick arc up with a beautiful, blood-spattered bow. 

Saddening as it is that this is the last hoorah of what has cemented itself as one of, if not the greatest action series of all time, no sound-minded viewer would have it any other way. This is the mountaintop of not just the franchise but action movies in general, boasting filmmaking mastery that lesser flicks will inevitably try and fail to replicate for years to come. 

This movie can currently be viewed exclusively in cinemas, where it shattered the franchise’s box office records with a $73.5 million opening weekend.