Baba Yaga returns with “John Wick: Chapter 4”

A mostly entertaining film despite its gargantuan runtime

“John Wick: Chapter 4” is a 2023 action film from stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski. The fourth, and possibly final, entry of the “John Wick” series follows the titular assassin as he fights for revenge against the High Table. The film stars Keanu Reeves (“The Matrix”), Donnie Yen (“Ip Man”), Bill Skarsgård (“It”), Laurence Fishburne (“The Matrix”), Hiroyuki Sanada (“Sunshine”), Shamier Anderson (“Invasion”), Ian McShane (“Deadwood”), musician Rina Sawayama and the late Lance Reddick (“The Wire”).

As a massive fan of the “John Wick” series, I was incredibly excited to watch this film early at South by Southwest. Overall, I think that the film is good, but it’s also my least favorite of the series by a long shot. The world building, action sequences, directing and cinematography are as fantastic as usual, but the 169-minute runtime doesn’t feel justified. Not only that, but this feels like an odd ending for the series, assuming there will be no more sequels. In spite of these issues, “John Wick: Chapter 4” is still a well-made action film that deserves to be seen on the big screen.

I should probably note that some of my criticisms of the film are very spoiler-heavy, so I will save those for the very end. I will also provide a spoiler warning beforehand.

For starters, Stahelski’s directing continues to impress. The first “John Wick” is well-directed, but it does admittedly feel like a low-budget directorial debut. Thankfully, with each subsequent film getting higher budgets (this most recent film had a $100 million budget), Stahelski has been able to get more ambitious with the visuals and action choreography of each film. There’s one sequence in particular that might be a series highlight, with an overhead view of Wick slaughtering his enemies, it reminded me quite a bit of the game “Hotline Miami,” and it was really fun to watch. The film also has some striking visuals, mostly thanks to Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Dan Laustsen (“The Shape of Water”), who skillfully manages to show all the intricate stunt work in frame. Not only that, but the vibrant lighting makes the world feel even more stylish.

The film also has a great cast of both returning and new characters. As per usual, Reeves, Fishburne, McShane and Reddick deliver solid performances in their roles. Fishburne in particular feels like he’s been having a blast as a crime lord known as the Bowery King since his introduction in “Chapter 2,” and his bombastic delivery still gives me chills with every single line of dialogue. This final film also brings in some new characters, most of whom are entertaining to watch. Established musicians taking a shot at acting is something that can be incredibly hit-or-miss (i.e. Harry Styles in “Don’t Worry Darling”), so I was skeptical when Rina Sawayama was cast in this film. Thankfully, she did a great job with what little screen time she was given. She really gave her role everything she had, especially in the action sequences. But in terms of performance highlights, I would say that Donnie Yen was easily the series’ best cast addition, since Fishburne in the second film. His performance as a blind assassin was quite impressive, and it was fun to see his character find ingenious ways of fighting.

While I did really enjoy this film as a whole, I think that I would have liked it more if it was shorter, or at least justified its runtime. This is the longest film of the series at nearly 3 hours, and the initial cut was reportedly 3 hours and 45 minutes long. Now that I know Stahelski and Reeves intended this as the final entry in the series, I can understand their wanting to make this film feel like an epic, “Return of the King”-esque ending. Unfortunately, though, this still feels drawn out. I appreciate the introduction of Sawayama’s character in the film, but it feels like it was only done for the sake of additional worldbuilding and another possible spin-off for the bigger “John Wick” franchise. The action sequences in this movie also felt like they went on for a little too long. Granted, these scenes are the reason why people like me enjoy these films, but this movie just has a lot going on. Just because you can make a long movie doesn’t mean that you should.


My biggest criticism of this movie is probably the ending. The film ends with John Wick being killed in the climactic duel and being mourned by his friends; we also see that he has been buried next to his late wife, whose death partially kicked off the events of the first film. While Wick has faked his death before, this film feels like it is genuinely trying to be an ending for the character, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that. Part of that is because this film was initially announced to be filmed alongside a fifth entry, so I genuinely thought that I was getting pranked when this movie ended with Wick dying. I would be a bit less taken aback if I had gone into this film with the knowledge that this would be the last one.

That being said, even that wouldn’t have excused everything for me. When dealing with the finale of a movie series, I feel like some loose ends from previous entries should be tied up. For example, rapper/actor Common appeared as an antagonist in the second film, and he is last seen in a subway fight scene in which Wick intentionally leaves him alive. I would personally expect this character to return in some capacity by the end of the series; the same goes for supporting actors John Leguizamo and Halle Berry. Granted, this could be more of a personal preference than objective criticism, but it was enough to take me out of the film.

In spite of my criticisms, I do think that “John Wick: Chapter 4” is a solid entry in one of the best action series from recent years. The larger franchise isn’t over yet, as we have the prequel miniseries “The Continental” and the spinoff film “Ballerina” coming out within the next two years, with Reeves returning in the latter. But Stahelski intends to move on with his career, as he is planning a reboot of “Highlander” and an adaptation of the game “Ghost of Tsushima.” But if this is truly the last of the main series, then I’m pretty mixed on that.

RATING: 7/10