John Wick 4 IMAX review – Staggering climax to Keanu Reeves franchise
John Wick: Chapter 4 final trailer with Keanu Reeves
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At one pivotal point in this brilliantly bonkers and bombastic symphony of excess, Ian McShane’ Winston tells our battered hero, “Just have fun out there.” It’s unlikely John will, but, boy oh boy, do we. Indeed, Keanu Reeves has called the film “the hardest I have ever made” and it’s easy to see why. Across almost three exhilarating hours, I lost count of the number of times the poor chap was shot, stabbed, punched, kicked, thrown off buildings, balconies and down staircases, and hit by various vehicles. The audience groaned in sympathy (and often laughed in delirious delight) each time. My mum hates violence but even she loves these films because “they’re like cartoons.” Frankly, Tom and Jerry would be hard-pressed to be still standing after everything that John Wick goes through. At the climax of one of the many, jaw-dropping new action sequence, one adversary screams “Why won’t you just die?” But John is the mythical warrior, the shadowed terror, the Baba Gaga. This implacable agent of vengeance will die, it is clear, when it suits him – and the cheering audience wants him to live forever.
Unlike the previous three films which segued straight into each other, director Chad Stahelski has confirmed the latest takes place around six months after Parabellum. After all, it ended when Winston shot John off the roof of the New York Continental hotel and he’ll need all his strength for what comes next.
From the epic opening scene as he thunders across the sands of Wadi Rum on horseback to carry out the first of his outrageous decisions, it’s clear John will not take the easy route of acquiescence to the underworld hierarchy.
As always his impulsive actions have exponential repercussions as a new enemy seizes emergency control of the High Table. Bill Skarsgård is a welcome addition as the Marquis Vincent de Gramont, yet another charismatic and egomaniacally unhinged gangster aristo with quite possibly the most covetable luxe (and frequently sparkly) on-screen wardrobe I have ever seen.
Indeed, this film isn’t just the pinnacle of Hollywood action movie choreography, it is also stunningly staged with endlessly beautiful visuals. The lush, opulent cinematography from Dan Lausten dazzles the eye as we gorge on gorgeous vistas from Jordan to New York, Osaka, Berlin and Paris, including a gold-drenched moment at Versailles. It’s the best-looking action blockbuster since Skyfall, with the costumes and set design matching the beautiful locations.
Those action scenes, however, also take the genre to an utterly new level. Sure there are too many of them and they go on forever, but who cares when they are this exquisitely choreographed and filmed? The inspired invention of bullet-proof fine tailoring also brilliantly brings the action back to brutal hand-to-hand (and sword) contact.
An insane extended sequence on the packed Arc de Triomphe roundabout rips your breath away. Another whirling throughout a huge crumbling building is already extraordinary before the cameras elegantly rise up and casually show the entire deadly, intricate dance from above, as if all the ceilings have been removed. Stunnnning.
The almost mythic universe-building continues to delight as the franchise accentuates how this world exists outside our own, filled with its own histories, laws and legends. A building is blown up in New York and bodies litter the streets of major cities in open gun warfare but we barely see local law enforcement or any hints of national governments or military. Even director Stahelski has publicly embraced the idea that this is almost an alternate reality.
It’s always grounded, though, by the impeccable gravitas brought by the likes of Ian McShane and the much missed Lance Reddick as his concierge Charon. The always excellent cast expands again as we meet more of John’s (aka Jardanni) Belarussian Ruska Roma clan. Hiroyuki Sanada radiates class as Osaka Continental manager Koji alongside a radiant Rina Sawayama as his daughter, and John Adkins blasts onto screen as Killa, the monstrous head of the German Table.
Laurence Fishburne continues to gleefully chomp the scenery as The Bowery King, Shamier Anderson is an intriguing addition as mysterious outsider Mr Nobody and Donnie Yen brings playful wit and piercingly deadly skills as blind assassin Caine.
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Reeves, of course, is the beating, bruised heart of it all. He endlessly, remorselessly kills, betrays little warmth or humour and his blissfully po-faced delivery of every line is as knowingly flat as his feet. But he loved his wife and that damned puppy – and that’s enough for us.
In fact, what the script and all the cast do, especially throughout this fourth and possibly final film, is layer in the overarching messages about found family, friendship, loyalty and the true meaning of honour beyond the High Table’s decrees. Most of us wouldn’t last a hot second in this world, but it makes us yearn to be part of it.
Who knows what will come next – the immediate chatter after the screening universally wondered whether that operatically thunderous, apparently definitive and deeply satisfying ending is a bluff. But, for now, we can celebrate an exhilarating epic that delivers absolutely everything we hoped for. And when can we ever say that about the ‘ending’ of any beloved film series or TV show?
As we all increasingly opt to wait for many movies on home streaming, like Top Gun: Maverick before it, this absolutely has to be seen on the biggest screen possible, with IMAX cinemas showing a version formatted for even greater screen space and higher picture quality.
Meanwhile, John (and Keanu and Chad) have earned a little rest. As for me, I’m already booked to see it again.
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