By Mark Kennedy/AP Entertainment Writer
A trip to Paris should be on everyone’s bucket list, even John Wick. The Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre – what better way to refresh your soul, even as you kick everyone else’s bucket?
The un-retired assassin does indeed dive into the City of Lights in the inventive and thrilling “John Wick: Chapter 4” a sequel which elevates and expands the franchise. The fourth installment is more stylish, more elegant and more bonkers – kind of like Paris itself.
When we last saw Wick, he was half dead in the gutter after being shot and tumbling several stories off the Hotel Continental in New York. He was on the blacklist with a $14 million price on his head. (Inflation has even hit this franchise: The bounty swells to $40 million by the end of part four.)
Wick, as always played with monosyllabic and brooding intensity by Keanu Reeves, leaves his customary trail of death, but there’s a shift here. So often the prey in the previous movies, Wick is on the offense in the fourth, taking his demands directly to The High Table, the group of shadowy crime lords that keep order.
This time, the Table’s sadistic frontman is a dandy called the Marquis, played with coiled menace by Bill Skarsgård, who spouts things like: “Second chances are the refuge of men who fail.” But he’s a secret coward, so feel free to boo loudly.
The nine-fingered Wick wants to end his nightmare, naturally, by killing everyone. His too-cool frenemy, Ian McShane’s Winston, challenges him to think differently: “Have you learned nothing?” he asks the man who, to be honest, he shot in the last movie. “You’ll run out of bullets before they run out of heads. “
Returning writer Shay Hatten, along with co-writer Michael Finch, have come up with a possible solution for Wick: Win an old-fashioned duel with the Marquis. Win and be free, lose and be buried.
Not so fast, of course. Along the way, Wick must somehow handle the blind martial arts master Caine, played by Donnie Yen, bringing humor and verve to a fighter who is tasked with either slaying his one-time friend or have his daughter killed.
There’s also Killa, a jumbo-sized card shark played by martial arts star Scott Adkins, and The Tracker, a very talented bounty hunter played by Shamier Anderson. Don’t forget a swarm of Paris-based amateur bounty-hunters and armored ninjas who seem as plentiful as the city’s baguettes.
All the touches you expect from a Wick flick are here – a cool dog, hand-to-hand combat amid glass display cases, candles and Christian iconography, galloping horses, the screech of metal swords and a new way to hurt someone, in this case, a single playing card. We visit Germany, Japan and end in France, even going to a disused subway platform.
Returning director Chad Sta helski loves combining neon with gloom and now has the budget to rent out space in the Louvre. Of the 14 action sequences – yes, 14 – a few are truly mind-blowing, like a fight in the middle of the traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe and a drone capturing a complicated set piece in a building involving what is being called a dragon’s breath shotgun. Repeating that last bit: dragon’s breath shotgun.
If there was a bit of a slog through would-be assassins in “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” – you know, shoot, stab, repeat – there is none here. One sequence on a set of outdoor stairs in Paris is almost riotously funny as knives and guns blast away, while the filmmakers add water and fire to a nightclub rave scene that puts clueless dancers next to axe-throwing murderers.
A shout-out to costume designer Paco Delgado, who has outfitted the baddie gunmen in light-colored three-piece suits and combat boots, and the executive baddies in fitted elegance with extravagant cravat-style ties.
One of the film’s saddest parts is saying goodbye to Lance Reddick, who played Continental Hotel concierge Charon and died on the eve of the movie’s debut.
How does this all end? Actually, on something of a deflating note. Earlier in the film, Wick’s Japan-based friend Shimazu – played awesomely by Hiroyuki Sanada – had asked a question that eternally hangs over this franchise: “Have you given any thought to how this ends?”
This chapter ends in death, of course. But that’s also how it lives.
“John Wick: Chapter 4,” a Lionsgate release that hits theaters Friday, is rated R for “pervasive strong violence and some language.” Running time: 169 minutes. MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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