Figure 1 – John Wick 4 poster

WARNING—This review contains full spoilers on the movie. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend bookmarking this page and coming back after you have. Then you can throw brickbats at me, agree with me, or whatever. But if you continue, you have been warned. (Again, I must point out that all of this is my opinion. Yours may vary) Now, if anyone wants to tell me that the JW movies aren’t genre, I would definitely have to disagree—by the end of JW3: Parabellum, Wick himself isn’t exactly human; at this point, in my opinion, he embodies the spirit of revenge.

Figure 2 – Lance Reddick as Charon

Coincidental with the film’s release on (according to IMDB) March 24, one of the few continuing characters from the first three movies is killed. And almost coincidental with the character (“Charon,” the Concierge), played by Lance Reddick (Figure 2), the actor himself died from (apparently) heart disease on March 17, a week earlier. Who says life isn’t stranger than fiction?

For those who haven’t seen even one of the four movies in this series, a quick recap: John Wick (the first, eponymous, movie [2014])—played by Keanu Reeves in his inimitable non-acting style—was a hitman for the High Table, an organization that apparently ruled every kind of illegal activity in the world. He was, perhaps, the most effective hitman in the world, so much that he was called “Baba Yaga” (oddly pronounced as “baba yayga,” for me—all my life I’ve heard it as “baba yahga), supposedly a mythic figure from Russian folklore. And even more oddly, the folkloric Baba Yaga is a woman, a witch, who lives in the forest in a hut with chicken legs. (The legs are so the hut can keep unwanted visitors out by turning around so they can’t find the entrance and, I’m guessing, running away if necessary.) At any rate, the movies’ Baba Yaga is apparently an unkillable devil.

But John Wick did something unthinkable: he retired from his profession. He met a woman, Helen (played by Bridget Moynihan) and quit the game under the condition that perform one “impossible task” and thereafter stay out of the game. But Helen dies of some unspecified disease, leaving JW alone in the world—until Helen’s final gift is delivered to their house: a puppy for JW to care for. Long story short, while JW is fueling his classic Mustang, the car catches the eye of a Russian mobster’s entitled son, who decides the car is too good for a nobody (the kid’s not really up on stuff). The Russian kid and his cronies break into JW’s home in the night, steal the car, beat up JW, and kill the puppy. Whoops!

Quicker than you can say “Baba Yaga” JW heads out to retrieve his car (here we see, fleetingly, John Leguizamo, who runs a chop shop), and the carnage begins. Aided by Winston (Ian McShane, Figure 4), who runs the New York Continental (one of a worldwide mob hotel chain with only one rule: you may not conduct any “business” on Continental grounds), JW kills the kid, most of the Russian mob, and the kid’s father. It was not just a bunch of running and shooting; there were all kinds of action sequences—Reeves has worked with director Chad Stahelski on the Matrix movies—car chases, and so on. In the end, the movie became kind of a balletic killing film, and more enjoyable than this quick summary might indicate. Please note: running time is 101 minutes; body count (killed by JW) is “only” 77.

But there’s a problem: JW is back in the game, and Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcia) holds a marker that JW now must repay. John Wick Chapter 2 (2017), shows that due to the marker JW is made to kill a member of the High Table so her brother—the same Santino—can inherit her seat. The brother holds the marker and if JW doesn’t fulfill the mission he will become excommunicado and liable to be killed by anyone under the High Table. So he kills her, allowing her brother to ascend to her seat; but JW has killed a member of the High Table and is now excommunicado (excommunicated—there are a few “churchly” parallels in this series) and a price in the millions is put on his head. The call goes out. In this movie we meet the Bowery King of New York (underground), Laurence Fishburne, who controls every homeless panhandler and underground person in the Big Apple. He is persuaded to help JW. JW’s friend, Winston Scott (McShane), can no longer help him, and gives him time to get out of town. The King gives him a gun with six bullets (I think; it’s been a while). Although Santino is protected by Ares, an androgynous but mute skilled killer (Ruby Rose), he prevails and kills Mark Dacascos, and then Santino on the grouds of the New York Continental. (I’m leaving out a bunch of good stuff on the grounds that this review is very long and I’m only at #2. I’ll try to speed it up.) JW leaves town with the new dog he adopts, a pit bull. Running time 122 minutes; JW kills 128!

JW 3: Parabellum is named after the saying “Se Vis Pacem, Parabellum” (which means If You Wish for Peace, Prepare for War). Because JW killed Santino on the grounds of The Continental, The Adjudicator comes into play and the New York Continental is “deconsecrated” (another “churchly” parallel). JW, Winston and Charon fight a pitched battle on the grounds of the Continental. Lots of car stunts, bullet stunts, knife stunts (and fights). JW leaves dog in the care of Charon. Goes to Casablanca and persuades Halle Berry (who runs the Casablanca Continental) to help him get to the High Table representative, an Arab Sheikh kind of guy, persuades him that JW “has served, will continue to be of service.” JW loses ring finger, meets adjudicator is shot by Winston and falls of roof of newly reconsecrated NY Continental. Movie ends with comatose JW being carried off in shopping cart by panhandler. It is at this point that I realized that JW is no longer a human being; he is the avatar of Revenge itself. No human could survive—let alone walk away from—everything that has happened up to this point. Running time up by 9 minutes (130 min.); JW kills down to 94. 

Figure 3 – Bill Skarsgård as The Marquis

Now we come to John Wick Chapter 4, which opens with a desert chase on horseback: JW is chasing 4 Arab guys in robes, eventually shooting them all. (John Wick must be a terrible shot—he never uses one bullet when four or five will do!) He comes to the place we saw in Parabellum, with the same High Table honcho Sheikh, who tells him to give up. Even if you kill me, the High Table will just replace me. You can never win.” JW shoots him. He told Winston at one point in (I think, JW 2) “Tell them it doesn’t matter who they send. I’ll kill them all.” (Or words to that effect.) Cut to the New York Continental, and a man approaches the Concierge (Reddick) with a briefcase. It’s Clancy Brown playing The Harbinger (there are a lot of “The” people in this series), and with a hand missing the same ring finger as JW, he pushes a sealed letter across, asking for the manager.

Figure 4 – Winston is given one hour

In the manager’s office he puts an ornate hourglass on Winston’s desk (Fig. 4) and tells him the hotel is condemned and will be demolished in one hour on orders of the Marquis (Figure 3). Winston and Charon go to the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård) to find out what’s going on. The Marquis tells Winston that since he no longer has a hotel, he no longer needs a concierge, and shoots Charon.

In order to not describe the whole picture blow by blow, I’ll do a bit of summary here. Wick’s vowed to kill the whole High Table (over and over if necessary), and the Marquis—having been given carte blanche by them—is calling in the highest-powered guys they know; one is Caine (Donnie Yen), a blind swordsman who thought he was retired, but his daughter, a violinist, is hostage to his obeisance, and he is given JW’s name (he has to kill whomever is named to him). Meanwhile JW has gone to Japan to a Continental run by his old friend Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama); there’s a giant fight (mostly swords and bows/arrows at first—traditional Japanese weapons and then guns. Caine kills Shimazu and wounds his daughter. Another character, the Tracker (Shamier Anderson), appears with his dog. He’s got a notebook full of sketches of JW, information about him and his friends and hideouts. Is he friend or foe? We won’t know for a while, but he does appear to be on JW’s side.

Again, cutting it short, we find Tracker appears to be waiting for the price on JW’s head to be big enough; he negotiates with the Marquis. There are some fabulous scenes in Paris—one an overhead (crane) shot where he fights his way from room to room in an old hotel, shooting people with bullets he apparently borrowed from John Woo, because they blow up and go on fire. Another stellar—and long—scene is in the ring road around the Arc de Triomphe, where JW drives a car both with and against the flow of traffic, all the while shooting and being shot at. He is hit by vehicles several times. Eventually, he winds up at Sacré Coeur church with its 300 steps. But before he can do that, he has to go back to the Ruska Roma—his sponsoring group; his original name was Jardani Jovonovich and he was an orphan of the tribe. His ticket was torn up in Parabellum, so he had to kill a guy named Killa (Scott Adkins,another martial arts name), which he does to be re-inducted into the Roma. Winston goes on his behalf to challenge the Marquis, who has to accept a challenge—but the Marquis names a second who will serve in his place in the challenge. He names Caine.

There is a climactic fight. I can’t spoil this one, because it will appear obvious to you who wins, but there is a twist. At the end of the fight, JW’s debt to the high table, as well as Caine’s, is repaid—and the High Table must rebuild and reconsecrate the New York Continental. Tracker is forced to give up his millions but doesn’t really mind. Running length is 169 minutes! JW kills are up to 140 from 94.

It’s almost impossible to give a full spoiler—even though I said I would—because the last movie is, for a film full of violence, also fairly complex. It’s a mythology that has built up from what I suspect was intended as a fairly simple martial arts-type movie. And, to nobody’s surprise, JW #5 has been announced, featuring Keanu—of course! Okay, if you read it before you saw the movie, I don’t think you really had much spoiled, because these films have to be seen to be experienced, IMO.

And by the way, I understand there’s a 3-episode TV series about The Continental, starring Mel Gibson, coming out later this year. Just sayin’.

Let me know what you think. You can comment here or on Facebook, or even by email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). All comments are welcome! (Just be polite, please.) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!

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