John Wick Chapter Four

What do you want on your tombstone?

Reviewed by: Alicia Glass
Published on: July 28, 2023

Reviewed by Alicia Glass

The Boogeyman of the master assassin world, his codename Baba Yaga spoken in terrified whispers, the one and only John Wick, returns to take a new villain and in the process take the entire High Table down!

The whole thing begins with a very traditional John Wick-type scene – John’s breaking out his lamentable gears of war whilst the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) joyously declaims a loud introduction of the same said master assassin, or quoting Dante’s Inferno either way, in one of his many underground lairs. And really, who wouldn’t want to be introduced to the hidden audience in such a way?

Immediately following is the confrontation between Wick and the Elder (George Georgiou) in Morocco, the “one who sits above the Table”, and his execution that allowed the calling in of Wick’s own marker … again.

As we learn rapid-fire after that debacle, the High Table, those legendary killers who grandfathered in a system by which all other assassins must adhere, has for some reason allowed their member the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard) to be in charge of executing Wick’s marker, allocating all the High Table’s considerable resources to do so. And of course the first thing to do in launching an all-out war against John Wick, is to head to the New York Continental Hotel, for a confrontation with Wick’s former boss Winston (Ian McShane) and the Concierge Charon (Lance Reddick).

It’s worth mentioning that this is Reddick’s final role before his unfortunate death, and his role as the Concierge to the New York Continental Hotel throughout all the Wick films has been an utter delight. He will be sorely missed.

So the Concierge did his duty and took the blame for his master Winston, who in turn gets rendered “excommunicado” by the upstart Marquis, and the New York Continental is destroyed. (The fact that only a single building, surrounded by other buildings and businesses and people, was the only thing carefully demolished, shows the commensurate professionalism of the High Table’s bombers.)

The Marquis is quick to bring in what he thinks is the best, and likely easiest-controlled, assassin to take out Wick – the blind supposedly retired hitman Caine (Donnie Yen). With his estranged daughter used as effective leverage against his friendship with Wick, Caine dutifully sets off to take down the legendary Baba Yaga, but it must be said, with some reluctance.

And off we go, to Osaka Japan, where inside the Osaka Continental Hotel is his old friend and comrade Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada), his highly-trained assassin daughter Akira (Japanese-British pop superstar Rina Sawayama), and all his seasoned fighting men are ready to take on the Marquis’ assassins! Here we meet new players to the game, most especially a man who simply calls himself Nobody (Shamier Anderson), a scarred veteran of what looks like quite a few wars, his battered self taking copious notes on Wick and the whole High Table business, with an ever-trusty Belgian Malinois at his side. (I’d just like to ask as an aside, what is it with the Wick movies and dogs?) Nobody is for hire but not for sale, even to the wicked Marquis and all his High Table threats, and clearly Nobody has a plan for some kind of, highly personal, revenge.

It must be nice to be able to think in terms of ‘millions’ when it comes to money. All the Marquis’ men, indeed damn near every fighting man in a suit in this latest Wick installment, are now outfitted with the whole latest bullet-shielding-armor installed in a finely-tailored-suit gag that Baba Yaga himself made infamous in one of the earlier films. So when the Marquis’ men, led by a stone-jawed and fierce Chidi (Marko Zaror), infiltrate the Osaka Continental looking to be the first to take John Wicks’ head, what we get is a fair amount of terribly buff men running around hiding their faces in their coat sleeves as they exchange hails of bullets.

Terrific scenes from the Osaka Continental include – two giant Sumo wrestlers (retired Sumo legend Yoshinori Tashiro who used the ring name or shikona Tooyama Katsunori, and Hiroki Sumi, who also recently starred in Netflix’s ‘Sanctuary’) take on Chidi’s men and fully display the grace and sheer fortitude of the oft-overlooked here in the West sport and art of Sumo wrestling; Caine sliding about and using freaking motion senser door chimes as guides to take down his opponents is absolutely brilliant; the feudal-modern Osaka punk take on graffiti art crashing down from display cases as Wick engages his enemies armed with nothing but, I kid you not, nunchucks, is glorious and ridiculous and just plain fun in spots, while clearly outlining the “Damn but I’m tired,” aspect ever-present in the background. We know Osaka is but one stop on what is shaping out to be Wick’s last romp, where are we off to next?

It’s another “yeah I tried to kill you back then but we need each-other again” conversations with  Winston at a graveside kind of day, who in turn, after making sure he’ll get everything he deserves and of course save his and Wick’s skins in the process, will call for a good old-fashioned High Table duel betwixt the Marquis de Gramont and John Wick. Just one little problem of course – Wick has to be part of a recognized Family of the High Table’s organization, and he currently is not. And so, we’re off to Berlin!  

The Ruska Roma, the Family Jon Wick once belonged to when he was part of the whole High Table enterprise, is not known for their restraint, when it comes to dealing with enemies, friends, and perhaps most especially, wayward Family members. So when Wick’s adoptive sister Katia (Natalia Tena) demands that in order to re-prove himself to the Roma, John must go and take out the killer of Katia’s father, one Killa Harkan (Scott Adkins) the head of the German Table, it’s actually a completely fair price.

(Yes, this is a long and semi-detailed review, the film itself clocks in at 2 hours and 49 minutes, so there’s a lot to unpack and drool over.)

The pounding bass and torrents of rushing water from above in the industrial-building-turned-nightclub that is Killa Harkan’s place is a very punk German throwback, though of course confrontation begins in the darkened casino back room with the unsurprising appearance of both Caine, and somehow inevitably, Nobody too. The fight scenes, as Wick gets tossed about and generally used as everyones favorite punching bag, are particularly good for Scott Adkins as Killa Harkan, who sported a fat suit and heavy makeup for the entirety.

It turns out, Adkins is a celebrated actor and martial artist, and has starred in movies alongside martial arts legends like Donnie Yen in IP Man 4: The Finale, he was JCVD’s main adversary in The Shepherd: Border Patrol, and can boast roles in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Metal Hurlant Chronicles, Doctor Strange and a whole bunch more. Adkins fight scenes as Killa Harkan against Wick personally, despite Killa’s large size and purported breathing issues, are glorious and clearly demonstrate, like the Sumo wrestlers earlier, that just because a man may be the size of a house with an adjoining garage, does not mean he can’t fully kick your ass up one side and down the other.

So, Wick’s killed the wicked Killa Harkan, brought back proof, and was reinstated by fire and blood and brands (and vodka) to the Ruska Roma. And after a whole bunch of celebratory drinking, Baba Yaga is moving on to Paris, to take a meeting with the upstart Marquis and arrange a final duel under the auspices of the Harbringer (Clancy Brown). Echoing those old-fashioned dueling pistols at high noon they love to have in Westerns, these High Table assassins agree to a final fight of dueling pistols at sunrise the following day at the famous Basilica of Sacre Couer in Paris.

Despite nominating Caine to be his actual duelist against Wick in the purported final fight, the Marquis is determined to take Wick out before the duel can actually happen, putting the word out of a 26 million dollar bounty to any and all aspiring assassins. The DJ of WUXIA Radio (a reference to the wildly popular ‘martial heroes’ genre of Chinese cinema in origin, Donnie Yen has starred in many Wuxia films for example) works those gorgeous black lips into the mic to encourage any and all comers to take on Wick before he can make it to the actual Church. All sorts of unlikely shoot-em-ups happen on the roundabout and though Wick makes it to the infamous two-hundred-twenty-two freaking steps that lead up to the Basilica, he still has to deal with all the assassins coming out of the woodwork to get him!

The entire scene of the steps leading to the duel site fight, or series of fights I should say, is like all of the Wick movies – begun crackling with verve and energy and murder, but as the fight goes on, getting more and more exhausted and tired and so over it, the entire situation goes past the point of ridiculousness to something one can sympathize with, laugh at, and still somehow cheer wholeheartedly for. Wick himself, and Caine as they both stagger towards those damnable stairs yet again, embodies the spirit of “I’m SO done with this bullshit,” and it comes across in every last running-on-empty desperate move. We are too, man.

What happens in the final confrontation with the Marquis, after John Wick and Caine finally make it past those damnable stairs to the duel site itself just as the sun is rising, will be left undiscussed here, because it gives the entire end of the game away. Let’s just say that what happened to the Marquis, that little dipshit upstart with far more money than brains, is entirely justified and I at least was pleased with the results. Screw that guy.

I love me a Skarsgard, that whole family has an acting dynasty going, and that’s great. Bill Skarsgard, who amazed us all as Pennywise the Clown in the recent ‘IT’ movie remakes among many other fine roles he’s had, does a good job as the arrogant Marquis, but there’s a literally glaring problem and that happens to be his youth. Every single last other assassin, hitperson, and killer in the film, has at least twenty years of experience on the Marquis. All the major star power in the film, and there is a ton of it, are grizzled veteran martial artists of screens both large and small, over decades of kicking ass and taking names shared among them, and poor Skarsgard plays a character who refuses to put up his own dukes at all, preferring to pay everyone else to do it for him. It’s got to be frustrating, and even mildly intimidating, to be playing such a cowardly character. To his credit, Skarsgard played the hell out of the Marquis, and I at least was fully invested in his character needing to DIE, already.

For as much wuxia awesomeness, ass-kickery, and mega-action-star power as they can pack into a sequel, look no further than John Wick: Chapter Four!