Can We Please Let John Wick Rest in Peace?
This story contains spoilers for John Wick: Chapter 4.
Such is life. So the John Wick saga begins and (possibly) ends—with loss.
In John Wick: Chapter 4, which is finally available on VOD this week, the franchise finds a few quiet moments to contemplate its past. John Wick (played for nearly a decade by Keanu Reeves) and his compatriots reflect on the choices they’ve made that turned them into the tired, broken, and stoic killing machines they’ve become. There’s no remorse—only acceptance for the well-dressed warrior monks. And for the fourth time, the world’s most deadly wife-guy returned to inflict his brand of elaborately choreographed mayhem on anyone that’s left to get in his way.
Now, if Chapter 4 is indeed John Wick’s final headshot, it scored the highest-earning opening weekend of the entire franchise according to Box Office Pro. Each chapter opened to bigger box office success than the previous entry, a momentum few other franchises can claim. The franchise will continue with Ballerina starring Ana de Armas, slated for release next year. De Armas will expand on the peek into the dancers trained by Anjelica Huston’s character from Parabellum. (Appropriately, the story will concern avenging the death of a loved one.) There's also The Continental, which will follow a young version of McShane’s character Winston. The prequel TV series, which premieres in September on Peacock, will explain how he became manager of the hotel. With the two spinoff properties still in production, it’s yet to be seen if the world of markers and gold coins will resonate without Reeves at the center. If efforts like Bullet Train and Atomic Blonde are any indication, mileage will vary.
So the Wickiverse will live on, sure, but hear me out: Keanu Reeves's assassin should be left out of it. Why, you ask? Because Chapter 4 is the best ending for Wick we ever could have asked for.
Thanks to an outburst of virtue from Mr. Wick back in John Wick: Chapter 2, he’s pursued by the underworld’s board of directors: the High Table. After barely escaping their relentless condemnation in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, the hitman some know as the Baba Yaga, or Boogeyman, begins his quest for retribution by galloping through the Moroccan desert toward his first kill—a hat tip to David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia. In Chapter 4, director Chad Stahelski embraces Lean’s scale by extending the franchise’s already extensive fight scenes and pushing the runtime to nearly three hours. Chapter 4 is a high-octane mix of what we’ve come to expect from the series that’s spoiled its audience with original, kinetic action sequences and upscale echelon of assassins. Because of the high bar each sequel has set, there are times when Chapter 4 leaves you in awe and others when you are merely completely satisfied.
The neon noir world Stahelski carefully constructed over four films begins to crumble. The poshly villainous Marquis Vincent de Gramont (played by Bill Skarsgård) is tasked with finishing John Wick off once and for all. He starts with Winston (played by Ian McShane); the manager of the five-star, all-inclusive home base-like safe house for the criminal underworld known as The Continental. Because of his continued betrayal of the High Table in order to help his pal John Wick, de Gramont demolishes The Continental and kills its loyal concierge Charon (played by the recently deceased Lance Reddick).
De Gramont also enlists Caine (played by martial arts legend Donnie Yen), a blind assassin, to do the dirty work of eliminating John Wick. Like his old friend John, Caine is a retired hitman forced to do one last job. Rather than satisfying a blood oath like John, Caine must take the job in order to protect his daughter. Winston informs John of an old tradition that allows him to challenge de Gramont to a duel in order to win his freedom. It’s a clever act of High Table jurisprudence that highlights the odd idea that the John Wick series has secretly been about rules the entire time.
What Stahelski clearly finds interesting about John Wick, the character, is the idea of the honorable assassin. It’s a corrupted sense of morality, but a sense of morality nonetheless. The High Table’s rules are absolute—and throughout the chapters, John has seen the way they can be exploited and unjustly enforced. They clash with his integrity, and he’s absolutely going to make it a big problem for them. The final section of the film takes place in France, a fitting location for a revolt against tyranny.
Since Chapter 2, the series became a globe-trotting thrill ride à la James Bond, establishing that a Continental exists in every major city. This chapter, John elegantly executes his foes through Morocco, New York, Osaka, Berlin, and Paris. Each destination gives Stahelski a different theme to thread into his elaborately choreographed action sequences, but also feels like a genre checklist he and Reeves have compiled.
The John Wick series owes its success to partnership of Stahelski and Reeves and their practice makes perfect filmmaking philosophy.
A firefight on a café-lined street leads to a brilliant highlight of the film: a battle in the circular road around the Arc de Triomphe. The Frogger-like skirmish sees John taking on a constant flow of bad guys as muscle cars and motorcycles weave in, out, and against the busy flow of traffic. John uses the oncoming cars for cover or accouterment as he maneuvers his adversaries into their path. An impressive bird’s eye view sequence inside a townhouse leads to the final obstacle: an enormous stairway, littered with assailants which is all that stands between him and the duel. John fights his way to the top, only to be pushed all the way back down, making for a delightful metaphor for the Sisyphean existence he’s led trying to escape his life as John Wick.
In the end, Wick outwits de Garamont by winning the duel—and his freedom from the High Table—but succumbing to his wounds. After John asks to be taken "home," we see his headstone next to that of his beloved Helen. This parting shot of John Wick pushing daisies is a bittersweet bookend to a story that began with the death of his wife, posthumously depicted by her daisy bracelet, and followed by a card featuring the friendly flower accompanied by a young beagle. In the card, she writes, “now that I have found my peace, find yours.” The idea of home, for Wick, is the wherever he can be with his wife and his pup.
If we have indeed seen John Wick’s final headshot, it’s a well-executed conclusion. Along with his grave, the destruction of the New York Continental, the death of Charon, and his liberation from the High Table, his narrative is nicely wrapped. Of course, there remains an entire underworld to exploit. Chapter 4’s post-credits sequence shows Akira stalking Caine, the man who killed her father, allowing for a direct continuation of that story. Though we see John Wick’s epitaph, we all know better by now that few characters are ever gone for good. His death could be passed off as an elaborate ruse, with Wick hiding in some remote location. Stahelski and Reeves haven’t completely closed the door on the possibility of more chapters—and Reeves has a track record of returning years later for his other genre-bending franchises: The Matrix and Bill & Ted.
“How you do anything is how you do everything,” says de Gramont. It's a line Stahelski attributes to his cinematic godmothers Lilly and Lana Wachowski. Stahelski first met Reeves on the set of The Matrix as his stunt double. The John Wick series owes its success to partnership of Stahelski and Reeves and their practice makes perfect filmmaking philosophy.
In John Wick 4, the duo has reached something close to perfect. So while few things definitively conclude in Hollywood these days, it's time to close the book on John Wick and let him finally rest in peace.
From: Esquire US