The boogeyman is on the move. Photo courtesy of Reason Magazine.
NATHAN SIMKINS | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
The John Wick franchise can’t be stopped.
Just when audiences thought that a third sequel to “John Wick” couldn’t possibly get any bigger or better, the filmmakers behind the franchise shocked the world again. The highly anticipated “John Wick: Chapter 4” dashed into theaters this past weekend setting box office records and receiving rave reviews from critics and fans alike. The fourth film in the franchise had a domestic $73.5 million opening weekend at the box office, setting the record for the largest opening out of the four films.
The previous John Wick films have all financially improved upon each other, continuously making the series a box office success and an iconic part of pop culture within the past decade of cinema. Star Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stahelski have already turned John Wick into an action movie legend of epic proportions, and this newest film manages to cement that even further. Armed with a massive runtime, fans of the series better buckle up for as much hyper-violent action as possible from the Boogeyman.
The world is closing in on John Wick
After the events of the last three films in the series, John Wick still remains on the run. As the price on his head continues to grow, the stakes of survival increasingly become more deadly. John’s battle against the High Table, the rulers and overlords of the criminal underworld, not only takes him across the globe but also forces him to cross paths with some of his deadliest adversaries yet. Few can be trusted, and no one is guaranteed to survive.
The globe-trotting element of the John Wick films is put into focus in this newest entry, and with the filmmakers preference to do as many practical effects and stunts as they can, almost everything is shot on location. The locations present in the film include Jordan, Germany, Japan and France. Each location is used beautifully and helps to create not only incredible set pieces, but also an amazingly elegant scenic backdrop to all the carnage that is witnessed on screen.
While the stunt work and action is what is first and foremost highlighted in this movie, the finer details of the mise-en-scène and production design are never sacrificed. Many reviews of the film have pointed out that this has led to a very distinct visual flair even within the rest of the John Wick franchise. Stahelski and cinematographer Dan Laustsen understand that this is an epic movie, which led them to craft a film that goes beyond the beautiful eccentricities of the sets. Each scene is shot with the most elaborately creative lighting and camera work possible, making for an astonishing looking film with amazing use of color and texture.
The cast of the film has been a common point of praise amongst audiences, with Keanu Reeves once again giving an incredibly fun performance as the titular lead character. While Reeves performance in this film is consistent with what fans have come to expect, he also gives the character more of an aggressive edge as this time around there is even more anger within him that unleashes on to as many men as possible.
Dr. Allison Harthcock, associate professor of communication and media studies, feels that Keanu Reeves and the series as a whole has a sense of self-awareness and absurdity.
“I think it’s the same thing that appeals to us about ‘Harry Potter’ that appeals to us about John Wick,” Harthcock said. “It’s a completely different world that doesn’t exist, but it’s fun to imagine. There is a playfulness to them that adds an element of joyfulness that is for the fans. [Keanu Reeves] has a self-awareness and that self-awareness is what makes him perfect for this role. The whole time he’s winking at us and breaking the fourth wall, making [the audience] have a good time.”
In this entry of the franchise, it’s the newcomers that truly steal the show. The most notable performance being from Donnie Yen playing the blind assassin Caine. Yen, being an action movie legend in his own right, gives every scene his all and builds Caine into an incredible character. Throughout the film, the entire cast helps to elevate the phenomenal world building on display. From the individuals at the High Table who are after John Wick, to the most low-level parts of the underworld, not a moment is wasted to expand the mythos and liveliness of this franchise. The underworld itself feels like a character in this film, meant to consume John Wick.
First-year accounting major Carson Gallagher feels that while not a vital part to the series, the world building present in the John Wick films does add a deeper aspect to the mythology of its universe.
“I don’t necessarily think it is vital, but I do think it is a nice add on after the fact,” Gallagher said. “There are aspects of mythology that influence things like some of the characters’ names, and I think that can be relevant if you want to have a deeper dive into [the world of John Wick].”
Another shining newcomer to the series is pop star Rina Sawayama who plays the character Akira, the daughter of an old friend of John Wick’s. Sawayama brings a ferocity to the Akira character and an extra jolt of emotion to the film. It would come as no surprise to many fans if Akira got her own spin-off project in the near future.
The Boogeyman’s fight rages on
While the film has been dismissed by some as being redundant and pure action, audiences have pointed out that the series also returned to the more tender and emotional aspects of the story that were present in the first film which kicked off all the violence in the first place. Many of these emotionally driven moments that add to the character and mythos of John Wick also give the franchise some of its appeal and charm.
While the characters that fill the world see John Wick as a mythological killing machine known as the Boogeyman, the audience sees a side of him that brings a sense of stoicism and loneliness to the character. Even though this is a man capable of killing anyone with anything at his disposal, there is a feeling that he is still a hero and a soft person at heart. Minus the few moments in the film that many critics agree drag in pace, the film brilliantly balances these two sides of the story, earning its long runtime. This is a testament to not only director Stahelski but also screenwriters Shay Hatten and Michael Finch.
In this film there is no shortage of the extreme, over-the-top action and brutality that audiences expect from a John Wick movie. It is all killer and no filler in this installment of the series. Throughout the film, characters recover from life-threatening injuries in seconds, everyone has bulletproof suits, and John Wick is able to fight off any assassin in ruthless fashion. Despite these reality-breaking feats, it all works effectively within this world that the filmmakers have created.
A major reason behind this is Stahelski’s fundamental understanding of filming action scenes with his experience as both a director and a stuntman. He understands how to display pure carnage and combat on an extreme level, making for a relentlessly brutal and groundbreaking action experience. However, he also understands how to infuse John Wick with moments of intentional absurdity and clear inspirations from different action genres to create something new and exciting for the character.
Dr. Gary Edgerton, a professor of creative media and entertainment, feels that by mashing together multiple genres of action, the John Wick series continuously sets itself apart from other action films.
“To me, it’s a Western that is tied to a crime film that’s tied to a science fiction action adventure film, plus it is highly stylized,” Edgerton said. “There is the ballet kind of stuff that you had in ‘The Matrix,’ and it’s sort of like a postmodern samurai film. Yet, it’s unique to this well-dressed dude. He’s tall, he’s lean, very stoic just like a Western hero, but he doesn’t look like anyone else.”
The stunts and action set pieces in chapter four have been hailed as being as impressive and visually creative as ever, setting a new standard for what can be accomplished. Action sequences that would be considered the greatest or most innovative for a single movie are maintained consistently throughout the complete runtime. The entire film is an overload of masterful intensity and action that takes the craft and artistry of the action genre and puts it into the spotlight to create a spectacle of stylized high octane violence that can’t be seen or matched anywhere else. It is a brutal and unforgiving masterpiece of its genre.