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REVIEW: The Surprising Metaphor Behind ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’

Once the metaphor was so clear to me, I was cheering for John Wick because, like him, I wanted to be free of this unceasing struggle with the system.

By this point, I have forgotten most of the plot of the ‘John Wick’ series. Coming into John Wick: Chapter 4, all I knew was that I wanted to see the polished, hard-hitting action choreography we have been given in the first three installments. It’s the brand that has grown from this slick action, neo-noir franchise made popular by Keanu Reeves’ titular character, the assassin John Wick. Within the first ten minutes of the film, all I needed to remember was laid out before me and I knew who John Wick was out to kill and sat back and was ready for the ride.

What I wasn’t ready for were the figurative parallelisms that ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ took to my own life as a man in my mid-forties who is looking to take things easier as I pass middle age. Down to its most basic, John Wick is the story of a master assassin who is literally killing everyone off so he can get out of the system and retire peacefully from that world. But the trouble that began, way back in the first installment of the series, has made him a liability (and has reminded the organization he used to work for how good he is at his job). It’s a man who just wants out but they won’t let him. Now how does a man in his mid-forties relate to this story? The connection there is in how this world is so hard-wired to ensure that you can never get out of the system. Not without ruffling a few feathers, or in the case of John Wick, killing a boatload of men and then some.

The world of John Wick and the organization he’s after, the High Table, has expanded that we get to see the history of John Wick come into play – old friends have come to give him refuge (to their own detriment) while other people from his past are brought in to bring John Wick down – and all of a sudden this world with all its cool martial arts and gun choreography takes human form. Sides are created and the High Table, represented by Bill Skarsgard as the Marquis, becomes an inhumane representation of the system that will not give John Wick what he wants. For the High Table, there is no mercy. The rules are sacred and John Wick must be destroyed at all costs.

And what cost! ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ is not without its extensive body count. Fantastic fight scenes from multiple locations around the world bloat up the film to a running time of close to three hours but it can truly boast some of the most exciting and thrilling action sequences in cinema today. The only thing that dampens the polished groove of the film is that one of the best fight scenes ever, the one in Japan, happens in the first hour of the film – with the exquisite Donnie Yen, the ever-reliable Hiroyuki Sanada, and the refreshing and arresting Rina Sawayama, in her debut film role – and while the other action pieces that follow are still great, it’s pales in comparison from this first battle. It’s what makes the three hour running time feel exhausting. The best has already come early.

Luckily, Donnie Yen, as a blind assassin, creates a lot of nuance and texture for Keanu Reeves’ John Wick to play off of. Yen doesn’t only have the physicality for all the action stunts required from him in a film like this, but he also has the charisma and the gravitas to add a profound depth to the film by being the antithesis of John Wick. While Wick is holding on to a memory of a loved one who had passed, a wish to be free so he can live a life his own, Yen’s Caine is trapped in life with a daughter whose safety hangs in the balance. It’s why the retired Caine is back in the game and going toe-to-toe with an old friend.

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So, sure, ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ is maybe 30 minutes or even an hour too long. Too many fight scenes (though do we really care? Because they were all quite amazing displays of filmmaking and stunt work) can feel indulgent as this is presented as the final installment of a very profitable series but they don’t rest on their laurels and still provide such an interesting heart at the center of it: the price of our freedom. The ultimate cost that we must pay for being part of this system that only sees us for our utility and not our humanity.

Once the metaphor was so clear to me, I was cheering for John Wick because, like him, I wanted to be free of this unceasing struggle with the system. I should be able to go when I want to. The hundreds of bodies that he had to punch, kick, stab, and shoot to be free were just metaphors of every fiery hoop we go through before we realise we are just cogs in a machine. Maybe I’m seeing more than what is really there. But I understood John Wick’s tiredness. It was time to go but they would not let him go.

So, he made a big mess just to get out and left us with a great big movie to say farewell with and I’m all the happier for it.

My Rating:

5 stars - Don't Look Up review

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John Wick: Chapter 4 is now showing in cinemas nationwide. Book your seats in advance and buy your tickets here.

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John Wick: Chapter 4
Action, Crime, Thriller
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