Bloated to the point of self-parody, ‘John Wick 4’ drenches fans with cascades of signature shoot-em-up action, some of which is quite good

Down to the Wick: Keanu Reeves as the titular anti-hero in ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’.

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4 *** (170 minutes) MA
The brief John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has across the inordinate length of his fourth adventure is simple: to kill as many people as possible. He is told so several times early in the film just so you don’t miss it.

With everybody after him as usual, Wick dispatches his never-ending stream of foes with the usual deadpan efficiency that has become his signature, the only real difference here being the sheer scale of the slaughter.

Presumably as a reward for their devotion to the franchise, director Chad Stahelski has seen fit to deliver unto the John Wick fanbase lashings upon lashings of extended action, with some sequences being so long you could comfortably nip out to the loo or for a snack and be back long before the last flurry of bullets have been fired.

The film is graced with some pretty nifty segments: one takes place on a long series of steps that has Wick going up and back several times, such is the onslaught of bad guys; another unfurls on the streets of Paris in the middle of peak hour traffic; and probably the best set piece sees a prolonged shootout viewed entirely from above, all captured in a single overhead shot. It’s pretty cool.

That said, the blam-blam does get very repetitive in spots, with Wick landing a kill shot everytime he fires while his enemies rarely land a hit, and when they do, it’s only ever on body armour. Nobody ever goes for a headshot like Wick does, usually at point blank range.

We also get a few too many action clichés seeping in with this entry. When there’s a bunch of bad guys waiting to wrestle with Wick they follow B-movie protocol and politely wait their turn before lunging. There are also too many times when Wick will rearm himself by simply plucking an automatic weapon off the nearest corpse.

At times the movie veers dangerously close to self-parody both with the over-the-top violence and with the revelation that John Wick is now, apparently, invincible. The dude can fall off a high ledge onto a hard floor, tumble hundreds of metres, get hit by several cars in the same scene and he’ll always get up, barely registering any pain and certainly without any compound fractures.

At least in the Bourne movies – whose intricate, realistic action scenes are several leagues above anything in the Wick films – we see Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) feel the agony of being in a car as its pushed into a bridge pylon.

And while most professional killers would never wear a white shirt to a gun fight involving scores of hitmen, Wick does so without any fear that a single droplet of blood will get anywhere near it.

In consequence the fight scenes, for all their scale and occasional ingenuity, don’t have much tension wired into them.

It’s also obvious just how much digital work has gone into most of the sequences. Superb work, to be sure – especially when the film gets to Paris and the Arc de Triomphe roundabout – but it does rob the film of that invaluable analog look.

As straight-faced as the film is, it’s not without touches of humour.

One particularly amusing fight sequence takes place in the midst of a huge a rave party where Wick and his adversaries are having at each other – with axes.

Now, in a normal action movie – which, admittedly, John Wick 4 is not – once the fighting begins all the dancing patrons would run from the venue, screaming. Here, however, they keep on dancing away happily, oblivious to the violence. It’s not till the killer finale that they start reacting and begin heading for the exits.

Pretty funny stuff, and there’s the remote possibility it was intentionally so.

With a fifth installment already planned, John Wick: Chapter 4 offers fans precisely what they want – and then some, with the added bonus of dialogue scenes so lengthy you’ve time for a quick visit to the restroom.

Of course, there’s plenty of fodder to make the case that John Wick: Chapter 4 is a prime example of a 100-minute film trapped inside an overlong 170-minute opus. And it is too long, but at least you can’t fault the film for leaving action fans positively saturated with what they came for.

One quibble, though. All the people gunning for John Wick are invariably men. In these enlightened times, shouldn’t there be a policy of gender representation among the baddies so that the carnage would include an equal number of women alongside the men?

Surely, we are at a point in our cultural evolution where the notion of “henchmen” in B-grade action movies should be replaced by “henchpersons”, so that when John Wick shoots and stabs and roundhouse kicks his way through a scramble of anonymous baddies we can see some proper gender representation among the corpses strewn in his wake. It’s only fair.

Footnote: Fans of the 1979 Walter Hill classic The Warriors will enjoy seeing the tribute paid in JW4, with a radio DJ providing a running commentary about the pursuit of John Wick across Paris. Just like the DJ reported on whether The Warriors would make it home to Coney Island in one piece.