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All movie graphics credit: imdb

John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)

Director: Chad Stahelski

Writers: Shay Hatten, Michael Finch, based on characters created by Derek Kolstad.


Keneau Reeves: John Wick

Laurence Fishburne: Bowery King

Lance Reddick: Charon

Ian McShane: Winston

Clancy Brown: Harbinger

Donnie Yen: Caine

Shamier Anderson: Tracker

Go here for the rest of the cast and crew.

Well gentle readers, I saw it. Mrs. Manor and I seldom go to the movies these days. The last in-theater movie we saw was Top Gun: Maverick, and that in June of 2022. Despite being very different movies, the essentials were there for both, the essentials that bring to theaters the Normal American audiences necessary for the very survival of the movies. Why don’t we go to the movies? If one eats or drinks anything, it’s ridiculously expensive. And of course, there’s very little we want to see, particularly when we can buy a DVD not long after what is usually a very limited theatrical run.

Let’s visit critic John Nolte to help set the stage for what is going to be a very careful movie review.

John Wick 4, which is R-rated and almost three hours long, opened to a franchise-best of $73 million domestically and $138 million worldwide.

Yes, in a single weekend, the $100 million-budgeted John Wick 4 grossed more money ($73 million) than the $125 million-budgeted Shazam! Fury of the Gods did over ten days and two weekends ($46 million).

It’s easy to see why “John Wick 4” has done so well, and will continue to do well. Even at nearly three hours, I’ve seen a great many 90-minute movies that moved with far less coherence and were interminable drags. While John Wick 4 could have been told in a bit less time, it never really drags.

Meanwhile, Shazam 2 didn’t just go kersplat over its opening weekend; it collapsed to third place in its second weekend. With a 69 percent drop, Shazam 2 took in just $9.7 million. This plummet allowed Creed III to jump into second place with a fourth-week drop of just 32 percent, adding another $10.4 million to its domestic take for a stunning total of $141 million.

Why has Shazam2 gone “kersplat?”  It’s overtly gay.  Oddly, Normal Americans are interested in paying to see that kind of thing.

The news for the groomers at Disney/Marvel continues to sour. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is running out of gas with a pathetic (for a Marvel movie) $210 million domestic gross and an even more pathetic $467 million worldwide gross. The first Ant-Man grossed $520 million worldwide. The second one grossed $623 million. Ant-Man 3 cost $200 million to produce and probably just as much to promote. This sucker is going to lose a ton of money. What did Marvel expect? Instead of wowing us with great stories, Marvel is instead lecturing and insulting us. No one wants to watch two hairy guys kiss in a comic book movie. Additionally, now that Marvel’s parent company (Disney) has become a danger to small kids with its open grooming, the goodwill factor involving all things Disney is sailing right off a cliff.

And there, gentle readers, it is. Hollywood either doesn’t have a clue about its audience or doesn’t care. No doubt both are true, but the third probability is they’re arrogant twits, the self-imagined elite, determined to demonstrate their intellectual and moral superiority, and in so doing, purposely piss off the Deplorables. Disney used to be the gold standard in entertainment not only appropriate, but wholesome, for kids, and simultaneously enjoyable for adults. They told timeless stories and expanded the boundaries of movie making technology. Now, Disney executives are determined to make their fare as “queer” as possible. Instead of telling compelling stories, Disney is now determined to try to take the LBGTQWERTY++– mainstream, while simultaneously pushing the usual racist, equity agenda. And what skill, what vision, is involved in taking two of the most profitable, innovative film franchises in history—Star Wars and Marvel—and driving them into the dirt?

I expected the fourth chapter in the Wick sage to entail John Wick wiping out the High Table. That would have been satisfying, but it turns out that’s not it. Wick’s quest is for freedom, a universal theme. Friendship and honor also play a significant role.

Honor for the most deadly assassin of all time? Easy, when the bad guys are soooooo bad they make Wick look saintly.

Oh yes: one of cinema’s great moments occurs in the latter portion of this movie. It’s brief, but brought delighted laughter and cheers from the audience. You’ll know it when you see it.

The movie, in terms of dialogue, begins as Chapter 3 ended. You’ll recognize and appreciate that too.  If anything, Reeves has less dialogue in this movie than in any of its predecessors.

Production values are first rate. Location shooting in Berlin and Paris is well done, and the music, unlike in so many contemporary movies, never overwhelms the dialogue. That’s one reason Mrs. Manor and I prefer to view movies at home; we can adjust the volume appropriately. Lighting, sound, costumes, fight choreography, weapon handling, every element of movie making is very well done.  Too many “action” movies are continuously dimly lit, so dimly it’s impossible to see much, and the action is blurred, both of which conspire to hide poor fight choreography.  In John Wick: Chapter 4, every motion is clear, sufficiently lit, even breath taking.

How can the forth installment possibly exceed the breadth and depth of the action scenes in the first three installments? By sticking with what works, ever more intricate fight choreography, and by continuously innovating. It seems impossible, but Wick wipes out far more bad guys than in the previous films. One climactic scene sees the cameras shooting from an on-high perspective, in a sort of ornately appointed shoot house, as Wick kills scores of very bad, bad guys. It’s a compelling perspective. The number of takes to make that scene a seamless whole must have been staggering. That, and the editing is superlative.

People who understand actual tactics have to be willing to suspend disbelief in most action movies. That’s true of this movie, if only because Wick walks, unscathed, through blizzards of bullets, but of course, he’s John Wick. Keneau Reeves actually studied to learn how to shoot and move properly, and not well enough to fake it for the movies, but firing live ammo, with appropriate long guns and handguns, on the range. As this production photo illustrates, he even knows how to properly orient magazines on the belt:

Making legends of necessity constrains reality. Wick knows he’s going against insane odds, yet he never appropriately dresses for the occasion, always wearing a suit with a dress belt that limits him to perhaps four spare magazines. He never conserves ammunition, firing with abandon, and frequently runs out of ammo, which requires him to scrounge weapons and magazines from those he’s killed. Fortunately there are always plenty of all three. This, despite knowing he’s going to be facing innumerable adversaries with long guns and automatic weapons. But, of course, he’s John Wick, and he makes opportunistic, deadly use of nunchucks, knives, motor vehicles, even playing cards.

Laurence Fishburn’s Bowery King is a minor, but essential role in this movie, as is Lance Reddick’s, ironic, Charon. As I’m sure readers know, Reddick died young, but did finish his role in this series of movies. Ian McShane’s Winston plays a pivotal role, and Clancy Brown—you’ll recognize him if you look hard enough—makes the most of a relatively small role. Donnie Yen as Caine, a fellow assassin, is instrumental in playing out the role of honor among friends. His martial arts prowess is constantly displayed in an unusually effective way—you’ll see. Shamier Anderson, and his dog—you knew there would have to be at least one, didn’t you?—also play pivotal roles, continuing an audience-pleasing plot device that began in the first movie.

Lance Reddick, RIP

I won’t give away the ending, except to say Wick’s dog makes a brief, and suggestive, appearance. Wick’s friends get what they need, if not precisely what they want, and the stage is set not only for John Wick: Chapter 5, but for a number of what could be lucrative spin offs by the same direction/production team.

Ultimately, John Wick: Chapter 4 succeeds because it doesn’t insult its audience. It doesn’t play racial, gender, or political games. It doesn’t pretend moral superiority. It never preaches, nor does it hate its audience. Every actor carries their weight; there are no diversity hires, no box checking, which doesn’t mean everyone is white or male. It employs universal archetypes such as the quest, and touches on, but doesn’t wallow in, realistic examination of human nature. Good and evil are constantly on display and at odds, yet always filmed in stylish, striking, and exciting ways.

John Wick: Chapter 4 isn’t good art. Audiences are not going to walk out overcome with the belief they’re just gained uncommon insight into the human condition. But who cares? The best movies are not only good art, but great entertainment, examples of the best mankind can do in filmmaking. But there’s nothing wrong with movies that are first and foremost, enormously entertaining, and even manage to help us think a bit too. John Wick: Chapter 4 delivers that in grand style.  It’s surely one of the best action movies ever made.

It’s worth seeing in theaters so long as one doesn’t buy refreshments and thereby court bankruptcy. And it’s certainly worth owning on DVD. It’s one of those movies one can see many times, because there is so much action, perhaps even subtlety, one can’t catch it all the first time through, and it is, above all, visually arresting and entertaining. Like Top Gun: Maverick, it’s the kind of movie contemporary Hollywood resists making, and the only kind that can allow theaters to stay in business.

Apparently Deplorables are sufficiently intelligent to know what they like after all–they don’t like being hectored by people who don’t know what women are, and who think mutilating the genitals of children is noble–and are willing to reward sane people that provide it.