Just now many lives does Jardani Jovonovich (Keanu Reeves) have? By my count, he expended enough to say John Wick 4 is the tally on the times he should’ve died. But this man is tough. He can withstand punishment that would send a common man into a coma, and he must have the supernatural abilities of a spider to dodge getting hit.
Before embarking on this review and fan commentary, I wanted to revisit the previous films to remind myself about the world Wick was once part of. He was a hit-man. Throughout the films, we find out he wants to be free from The High Table. Past chapters reveal that they are a global criminal cabal who employs a special league of assassins for their in-fighting and assaults on humanity. Fans of the Batman comics can forget about the Court of Owls and Ra’s al Ghul’s empire; this version is worse and dates back to the time of antiquity. With ominous titles like The Harbinger (nicely played by Clancy Brown), Charon (Lance Reddick) and even Caine (Donnie Yen) making up a huge supporting cast, I wondered who can be added since the third film?
I suspect the franchise is about fealty. In Wick’s case, he was saved from a life without parents. Although the comic book series doesn’t reveal a lot concerning his childhood, I suspect had he not been adopted by an old friend of his father who is no doubt part of this exclusive club and wanted to indoctrinate him early, his life would have turned out differently.
Though those years are not likely to be told in film anytime soon, what fans get to see is him having unwavering faith to those who accepted him to the fold. The latest film sees how deep that devotion is, and it runs blood deep. To understand what’s going on requires remembering what the third film sets up—a war the Bowery King declared upon the High Table.
When Wick has to face Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), a senior member of the High Table, to attain further freedom, the cost may be far worse than he realised. Allegiances are tested. Koji Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada) is either loyal to Wick or that order. Even Akira (Rina Sawayama) chides her father about it, and as for where Caine stands, that’s the best part of John Wick 4! He’s hard to read, and Yen is perfect in the role.
The Asian flavour is really brought out in this latest instalment. I not only see the code of the Bushido brought into play, but also why respect within families (adoptive or not) is all about. Akira defends her father’s honour, and this theme is key to why Gramont will stop at nothing to keep his position of power. He most likely doesn’t have any blood kin, and just how he became part of this empire is unknown. Also, since he shows no respect to anyone, it’s easy to see why he’s unlikable during the course of the film.
Elsewhere, Caine’s relationship with Wick is complicated. Yen’s performance is a lot more memorable than that of Chirrut Îmwe (Star Wars: Rogue one). Both are similar characters, and I feel this version has a lot more to like. His prowess puts Daredevil to shame, and I’ve always admired his dedication to the wuxia genre since appearing in Once Upon a Time in China II (1992). To see him and Reeves together makes for some fun on screen moments. From when they have to fight each other to a standstill and also as unlikely allies makes for a lot of hilarious and tense moments.
John Wick 4 delivers a lot of moments to make fans wonder what type of overarching creators Chad Stahelski and Derek Kolstad are going for. In some ways, the concept has a bit of influence from Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner. While those spies can say they’re retiring, are they truly out of the game? In John Wick’s world, this criminal overworld doesn’t let former operatives live out normal lives, despite their best attempts.
What we get is more than a revenge story when John Wick’s best friend, a dog, and vehicle get stolen. They are important reminders of the love he lost; and hell hath no fury than a person, let it be forgotten. When I got reminded of the grander story about this individual keeping the memory of his wife alive, just what happens in this series is just as much about never forgetting. But remembering why learning how to live is critical. This character could’ve walked away and left it be, but when killing is in his blood, I’m sure in heaven she’s saying, “Go get ’em, tiger.”
4 Stars out of 5