John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023) Spoiler-Free Review
Updated: Mar 25
The new John Wick film is perhaps the most action-packed, visually stunning entry in the franchise. After recovering from the events of John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum (2019), John prepares to take revenge and make one last attempt to escape his past. This time, he must face the Marquis de Gramont, a power-hungry sociopath who might just have the money and firepower to finally take down the world’s best hitman. Like many other neo-noir thrillers, it’s a powerful exploration of destiny, freedom and community; what makes this franchise unique is its self-awareness, embracing a level of camp while still delivering eye-popping shots of adrenaline. This is one you want to see in theaters! Even after the trailer gave me such high expectations, I'm still blown away.
Working with the biggest budget the franchise has seen to date, director Chad Stahelski was bound to give us a watch to remember. The first thing you’ll notice is the sheer scope of this movie. Everything feels huge, and that’s not just because of the IMAX. From the shootouts to the hard-smacking dialogues, there’s a vastness to this movie I really appreciated because it reflects the enormity of the film’s themes. Death, revenge, fate, these are massive things to explore, and Stahelski definitely did that justice. The action scenes are drawn out to the point of being comedic, making audiences feel the endlessness of John’s struggle to escape the criminal underworld. Watching him shoot, stab and punch through wave after wave of henchmen also creates a kind of dramatic tension. We know the real challenge is going to come any minute, and waiting for it keeps us on the edge of our seats. Neo-noirs always have tragic heroes, and as we watch what may be his toughest battle yet, viewers can’t help but wonder if this might be it for John Wick. This tension is further emphasized by the expressive visuals.
Cinematographer Dan Laustsen (who also worked on Guillermo del Toro’s 2021 remake of the classic noir film, Nightmare Alley) uses bold colors and high-contrast lighting to heighten the dramatic tension. The frame is often awash in green, blue, red or gold, with bold use of shadows, setting an emotional tone and also highlighting themes the film is speaking to. Neo-noir movies always use the tension of their times to question the right and wrongs of traditional values, and John Wick: Chapter 4 is no different. Throughout the film, we get the sense that the ‘rules’ which these assassins find themselves abiding do more harm than good. This juxtaposition is expressed in the visual language of the film by placing striking colors against dark backgrounds. There’s also some phenomenal camerawork, with a few crane shots looking directly down on the action, as if taking a divine POV. I keep echoing classifications of this film as a neo-noir, but I think its aesthetics place it more in the tradition of ‘neon-noir.’ These movies operate with an astounding awareness of space, as this film does: the composition is phenomenal, almost painterly. In certain shots, it’s as if the city itself is a character. Regardless of these amazing visuals, though, it’s the protagonist who’s really central to this movie.
Much like Michael Mann’s Thief (1981) or Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011), this neon-noir’s main character seems to get farther from his goals the more his body count rises; but Keanu Reeves does a fantastic job of separating himself from macho tropes with a line delivery only he could pull off, adding a layer of camp to the film that helps undercut some of the action. It’s as if he’s in on the joke with us, aware of how ridiculous this whole situation is. The back-and-forth established with the audience through this technique not only endears us even more to the character, but does so by hitting numerous emotional registers, creating a more immersive experience. The supporting cast also does a great job of playing to Reeves’ strengths.
There are a few moments where community is expressed in a very compelling way. Whether getting him new bulletproof suits, guns, or risking their lives by letting him hide with them, it’s clear John couldn’t do this without his friends. This differs starkly from the lone-ranger type of hero we’re used to seeing in this genre and action movies as a whole. It makes us think about the role of community in our own destinies, ultimately making viewers acknowledge the central role other people play in our life.
Watching this, I can’t believe the first John Wick movie almost went straight to DVD. One wonders where the franchise would be if that were the case, and how close we got to perhaps never getting this movie in theaters. What a shame that would’ve been! It’s a wildly fun, high-octane visual feast. Be sure to watch it on the biggest screen possible while you can! If you enjoyed this review, consider subscribing to the blog’s Patreon by clicking here! It helps pay the various fees that come with running a website, and keeps this blog ad-free and independent. There are also some cool benefits for those who choose to support the blog in this way including: suggesting which movies I review, getting personalized movie recommendations and access to free giveaways!