Monday, 24 June 2024

‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ delivers action in massive fashion


Retirement is not in the cards for Keanu Reeves’ titular character in “John Wick: Chapter 4.” He sought to leave behind his days as an assassin but he’s constantly pulled back in by the international crime syndicate known as the High Table.

Ardent followers of the franchise are already well aware that Wick’s world is fraught with danger at every turn, from the time he had to avenge the brutal killing of his puppy by Russian thugs to fending off deadly foes of all stripes.

What exactly is the High Table? It’s akin to a secret society like the Yakuza or the Illuminati, and in this case, the group is a council of twelve crime lords that governs the underworld’s most powerful organizations.

For some time now, John Wick has been seeking his freedom from the unseen crime bosses, and his defiance of their rules results in multimillion dollar bounties for his elimination.

The stakes are much higher now in this fourth chapter, where even old friends turn into lethal adversaries. Nevertheless, some remain allies most of the time, as is the case with Winston (Ian McShane), the owner of the New York Continental Hotel, a refuge for assassins.

During the course of the franchise, Wick committed the unpardonable sin of breaching the rules of the Continental, a sanctuary for hired killers where the conduct of business is forbidden.

You could say that Wick conducted “business” on hotel grounds by killing a despicable adversary in a situation that was unavoidable. Yet, penalties ensued as he broke the laws of Winston’s establishment.

The High Table is under new management, and maybe Wick had something to do with that when a horseback trek through the desert results in him killing an elder of high standing.

In the early going, a High Table functionary known as the Harbinger (Clancy Brown) shows up at the Continental Hotel and informs Winston and his concierge Charon (the late Lance Reddick) that the hotel is to be demolished within the hour.

Losing his hotel is a real blow to Winston. The hotelier is a suave figure who becomes more dangerous when what he values is stripped away. He may be Wick’s only hope when he cunningly devises a strategy for the on-the-run hitman to be finally free of the High Table.

With some help from underground crime boss Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), Wick is going to take the fight to the overlords. He will not be deterred by the appearance of the High Table’s emissary, Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard).

The sadistic and pompous Paris-based Marquis hangs out in opulent places like the Paris Opera House. He fancies himself too refined to do any dirty work, so he’s got a plethora of henchmen at his behest.

With a dwindling number of friends, Wick seeks refuge at the Osaka Continental Hotel which is owned by Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada), thereby earning the wrath of the High Table for helping an old friend.

The Osaka hotel is quickly besieged by a relentless number of expendable thugs armed with swords and guns as well as martial arts skills. Shimazu and his daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama) are soon in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, the odious Marquis has coerced Wick’s old friend, Caine (Donnie Yen), a retired blind assassin, to employ his lethal skills against Wick under the threat of harm to his daughter.

The presence of Caine as the martial arts master creates a fascinating scenario in that there is no personal animosity with Wick. A complex being, the blind assassin proves believable as someone that Wick may not be able to defeat.

Another player engaged by the High Table as a pursuer is known only as the Tracker (Shamier Anderson), who’s assisted by his faithful canine, a Belgian Malinois with a killer instinct.

Like most other assassins, the Tracker is motivated by money, and yet he’s also very mysterious in that we are not really sure what side he’s on at any given moment. Tracker does appreciate that Wick sees to it that no harm comes to his dog.

Wick is also drawn back to his adoptive Russian family that raised him in the underworld. He’s tasked with taking out a villain named Killa (Scott Adkins), which results in a frenzied action scene in a pulsating Berlin nightclub.

At nearly three-hours long, one might think “John Wick: Chapter 4” could have used some editing. In truth, the pace is so fast that the thought of overkill may be easily discounted.

To be sure, the mayhem may feel excessive with the body count seeming to be almost higher than the previous installments combined. One of the best scenes involves a mad car chase around the Arc de Triomphe with guns blazing.

Details of a climactic duel at dawn at the Sacre-Coeur Basilica in Montmartre shall not be spoiled here. By this point in time, the hand-to-hand combat and the surfeit of gunplay have been relentless and thrilling. Fans of this franchise won’t be disappointed.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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