The Dueling of Loyalty and Greed in “John Wick: Chapter 4”


Reeves returns to the big screen in the action packed “John Wick: Chapter 4.” (Courtesy of Twitter)

 Keanu Reeves is back for another go around in the lively “John Wick: Chapter 4.” The 2010s-born series of action flicks surrounds John Wick, a legendary assassin first pulled out of retirement to seek revenge on a crime boss’ son for killing his dog, and is now unable to find peace again. His continued killings and predicaments over the past three movies have made him incapable of leading his way out of a world with which he has re-familiarized himself. 

Though the installment has a nearly three-hour runtime, I didn’t mind so much. It is a quality action film and terribly entertaining. As per usual, the film begins with a bounty being put on John’s head, this time by the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård) who is attempting to carry out the consequences of John murdering the Elder, a figure held above even the High Table (the council running the organization of assassins). 

“John Wick: Chapter 4” bops around countries, possibly more than any other film in the franchise. There are plenty of sights to see, whether that be Paris at dawn or the Berlin club boxed in by waterfall architecture (where I can imagine the intricate stunt work, in a crowd of impressively high energy dancing extras, was a pain). The seamless transitions from location to location done by establishing shots and music alone were welcomed, rather than the ever-tacky technique of plastering the name of the city across the screen every ten minutes, à la last summer’s Netflix assassin film “The Gray Man.” 

The film begins in Osaka, where John is seeking shelter from his old friend Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada), unknowing that his other pal Caine (Donnie Yen) has been promised freedom by de Gramont in exchange for John’s life. A lot of what makes the Osaka sequences great are the set pieces, which include the modernized (even futuristic) Osaka Continental Hotel lobby and a museum of LED lit stained glass windows featuring Japanese art, a beautiful room ruined by the circumstances of violence. In this way, it’s a lot like the relationships throughout the “John Wick” franchise. 

What I was most excited about during this portion of the film was the feature acting debut of indie pop singer Rina Sawayama portraying Akira, the daughter of Shimazu. Sawayama happened to be on director Chad Stahelski’s radar with her music videos and, as he told NME Magazine, she was called “24 hours after I’d seen her video,” a testament to the very vitality Sawayama brings to the big screen and Stahelski’s give and take with his actors. I only wish Akira hadn’t been left behind in the story as soon as Osaka was.

A new character who thankfully remains throughout the film is the mysteriously coined Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson), and his faithful dog, which may explain Wick’s soft spot for the man who takes multiple shots on his life. The balance of vengeance (often hand in hand with loyalty) and greed in the “John Wick” films is evident in the character of Mr. Nobody. He constantly asks for a raise on John’s bounty, a skilled enough assassin that he could surely get the job done, but is wary of going through with it. He masks his respect with the intent of greed, but his character still comes across as good-natured. The subtle performance and characterization of Anderson is a sure win for the fourth film. As is the case with the villainous performance by Skarsgård, though that is to be expected from the actor at this point.

One can always bet on John Wick’s old friends showing up; the man has history with everyone, everywhere in the world. But the friendship between Caine and John sneakily slips in a true bond, more so than any of the frivolous paths crossed in the franchise. In a scene where the pair climb an almost painful amount of stairs together, watching each other’s back but knowing they are being pit against each other, the chemistry between Reeves and Yen shows in all its glory. Loyalty and greed, I’m telling you.

Reeves’ depiction of Wick in this film is of a genuinely tired man, aided by the very minimal dialogue for his character. His performance fits with the earnest tone of the film to a tee. In all of Wick’s ruthlessness, we sympathize with him. Whether that is because of the likability of Reeves, an understanding of John’s vengeance or simply because he’s the protagonist, I do not know. The only thing I am sure of is I could watch Reeves and Stahelski collaborations for a lifetime more.