John Wick 4, A Longer Take

Yesterday, I did a short and sweet review that basically said go see it. Today, I want to do a more detailed review and get into at least one area of memetics central to the series and particularly this chapter.

Let’s start with no real spoilers. The acting is superb.

Clancy Brown as the Harbinger is amazing, and while not in the film quite as much as I may have liked, his appearances are critical on several levels. So much so I would be tempted to say that this, not his role in Highlander, is the role he was born to play.

The nuanced and deep performance by Lance Reddick as Charon is fitting for his final role, and a reminder of the amazing talent lost with his death. He will be missed.

Bill SkarsgĂĄrd plays the psychotic, arrogant, and slightly foppish Marquis almost too well for comfort. There is a fine line in playing such a character that keeps it from becoming either farce or failure, and it was walked with the grace of a tightrope artist. To stay away from spoilers for now, I will simply note that while there were only five or six of us in the early show, there was a distinct hissing heard when he came on screen.

Donnie Yen as Caine was outstanding casting. To combine absolute menace and deadly skill with comedic elements takes a deft touch. Yen appeared to do it with ease. His role, from action to some rather deep philosophical moments, is critical to the film. Without risking spoilers, the introduction of the blind swordsman/assassin meme to the movie was a brilliant stroke. I did, for a moment, flash to Usagi Yojimbo and am glad Yen did not have to utter the line ‘Why does everything smell of pine?’

Hiroyuki Sanada is not as well known to U.S. audiences as he should be, in my opinion. Again, another very good performance that combined excellent acting with amazing action.

The movie also introduces Shamier Anderson to a much wider audience. His character, Tracker, is both ally and enemy to John Wick at different times, and is very well played. The scene where Wick has to decide between shooting him or shooting the evil minion about to kill the dog is classic. I hope to see a lot more of Mr. Anderson in the future as he deserves a larger audience.

Also, I want to commend the performance of Rina Sawayama as Akira. While she is no stranger to the camera from her work as a singer and entertainer, this is not just her first major movie role, it appears to be her first movie role period, and she did it beautifully. Her chemistry with Reeves, Yen, and Sanada in particular is a delight. Maybe a bit more later.

Finally, we have Keanu Reeves. So as to not get into spoilers yet, I will simply say that he plays the weary, world-weary, and determined character to perfection, showcasing the many sides of the character with an excellent, even understated in parts, performance.

And while I should note the performances of Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane, and others, I will simply say that if I took the time to go into all the actors/actresses who gave a good performance we’d be here quite a while. If there was a bad performance, it was lost somewhere in the hundreds of evil minions of the movie. The cinematography was it’s usual fantastic success.

Given what happened with Rust, I will note one final element I loved before moving on. The times I looked for it, I was pleased to see both trigger discipline in use (particularly by Mr. Reeves) and that the actors were indeed “cheating” their weapons. By that, I mean that while from the camera angle it looked as though they were pointing directly at another actor, they were not truly doing so. One of the many reasons I’ve enjoyed this series is the realism with weapons and tactics, and the commitment to safety.

Oh, do not leave the theatre until ALL the credits have rolled. Otherwise, you will miss out.

Spoilers Ahead

Spoilers Ahead

Spoilers Ahead

Spoilers Ahead

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Spoilers Ahead

You Were Warned

You Were Warned

You Were Warned

Yes, John Wick is a live action comic/manga in many respects. Great action and escapism! Larger than life action and adventure.

Yet, it is also a series that takes on a number of tropes and memes cultural, literary, and even religious. It is one of the things that gives it depth for those who see and understand those memes. Some of the religious seem to be based on Orthodox theology, though traditional Catholics can hum the tune.

One element to those is crucial to the series and especially to this movie: the tale of the good man. The good man who must decide where he stands, what he stands for, and what he lives or dies for. Throughout the film, we see John Wick strive to be the good man. He left the life he had known for love, only to lose it. He is drawn back into his former life by the loss of love and hope, symbolized by the death of his wife for the first and the death of the puppy she sent him for the latter.

Throughout the films, he has been told that the killer is who he truly is, and is all he will ever be. In this film, this is almost brutally driven home in a not terribly subtle way. Both bad guy and even some “good” guys delight in telling him that this is all he is, and he should accept that. It becomes the true struggle for the character in the movie, as he sees and learns the consequences not just of his presence on those he counts as friends, but even what his mere existence can mean for those in his life. In the former, it is what happens to Shimazu and Akira because of his presence. In the latter, it is the death of family member Uncle Pyotr, who was executed for his actions earlier in the movie. The look on his face when he learns of this is telling of more than shock, but a growing realization of where he is headed.

Throughout the movie, we see John Wick grow more and more tired spiritually, even as physical damage takes its toll. We are also treated to a great deal of foreshadowing about both him and what his actions can accomplish. The Harbinger warns the Marquis of the ultimate consequences, more than once, though the second time is very explicit. If the Marquis triumphs, the current order stays. If the Marquis fails, it means the end of the High Table as John Wick will, in terms of this universe, become a saint-like figure to those under the table. As such, the High Table’s power will be broken.

In addition to that, we see some of the theological struggles at play. Wick prays for and talks to his dead wife in a Church. When asked by Caine if he thinks she hears him, he replies no; but, he could be wrong so does it anyway. This is playing out part of that meme, of the good man who has lost his way, who thinks he deserves hell but prays for his wife in heaven/to be in heaven. Who is right, him or Caine who believes there is nothing after this life?

We see this continue in the attempt to climb the stairs and the fights along the way. Allegory doesn’t begin to describe this, and the fact that non-believer Caine joins him and helps him reach the top and duel that decides all is a masterstroke. BTW, if those are the steps I think they are, I’ve been up them and they are a bear even without all the evil minions trying to kill you.

At the top of the stairs awaits the duel in front of the Basilica Sacre-Coeur of Montmartre. As an aside, it is a beautiful place and I would really like to go back and attend the full mass, as what I did get to see prior to joining the Church was a thing of beauty.

The Harbinger not only officiates the duel, he takes on the role of priest within the world of the Table. Wick must face Caine, who has been chosen to shoot for the Marquis. I don’t want to give away too much, but will say that when the Marquis gets his just desserts, the people in the theatre cheered and clapped even more loudly than they did for the death of his main minion.

Wounded and staggering, John Wick simply turns to Winston and asks him to take him home. Then, following up on previous symbolism with the sunrise, he turns into the sunrise and down the steps. As he goes, he makes his choice and discards weapons and all that go with the life of being the Baba Yaga. Sinking down, he turns and stares into the dawn, and at his wife, and simply says “Heaven” as he apparently dies.

They do keep a bit of mystery going, for all that the King and Winston are seen at his grave, where he lies next to his wife. They tease a bit with the interplay, but I hope they don’t play games with this. John Wick made a choice for the lives of others (Caine and his daughter, his family, etc.) and for his own soul. That sacrifice is key to the movies and to this particular meme within those movies. To toss that away for a cheap stunt later would be a betrayal of the story and to the audience.

There are many memes and tropes in play in the movies, and they give them a richness and depth that far surpass what one expects from a live action comic. I suspect there could be any number of academic papers, posts, and books about them. For me, this weekend particularly, the meme of the good man who has done bad if not evil, who works to make it right, and chooses to sacrifice his life to make right what he has done, who puts his faith into Grace and redemption, is particularly apt. John Wick is not the saint proclaimed, but the penitent who chose Faith.

It is a good ending for the character, and a good point of reflection for us the audience. As for the series, there are a number of opportunities. The true end scene pits Akira against Caine in his moment of true happiness as he goes to his daughter, and what the Tracker chooses to do is an open question. I look forward to that, but hope they leave John Wick to his reward.

4 thoughts on “John Wick 4, A Longer Take”

  1. I’m not one for movie theaters, for several reasons, among them the inconvienece of having to put up with the standard BS associated with movie-going and my hearing difficulties, but….

    There some films for which Blu-Ray (whenever it comes out) on a large HDTV is more than acceptable, but there are some films which present so much better on The Big Screen that it’s worth putting up with the hassle (The Passion of the Christ and Act of Valor are two that come to mind, there are quite a few others), so, is JW4 a “big screen” movie or will it work well on a smaller one?

    Iggy

    1. Iggy, I think I truly do understand the issues you have with theatres as I suspect I share some of them. It takes a lot to get me in one these days. That said, I can only say that this movie was the first one in several years to get me in a theatre. I meant to go see Top Gun 2, but money never worked out at the time. So, it’s been three or four years I think since I went, and this one was worth it. On the large screen lots of details in the background showed. I do wish the volume had been lower, as it was set for a full theatre and we were anything but. 🙂 It was worth it for me, for whatever that may be worth.

  2. Thanks, LW. Now, if theaters just had rewind and closed captioning……maybe I’ll do both, watch it on the Big Screen and pick up a copy when the BR comes out.

    Iggy

    1. Heh, I wish they did have that! Even though I hit the head before going in, was starting to dance a bit by the end. 🙂 Thinking I will get the BR on all, lots of little details I’d love to go check.

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