As I reflect on “John Wick 4,” the latest entry in the hitman franchise created by Derek Kolstad, I’m reminded of all those wonderful fight scenes in William Dozier’s 1966 “Batman” television series. Each episode featured an endless barrage of fisticuffs as Adam West’s Caped Crusader and Dick Grayson’s Boy Wonder beat the tar out of scores of criminals coming out of the woodwork. Animated onomatopoeic words flashed across the screen with each forceful blow. You couldn’t wait for those moments. The violence tames in comparison to the shootouts in Baba Yaga’s underworld, but the two are connected spiritually as we sit in a darkened theatre anticipating those thrilling action scenes. “Somebody please get this man a gun” indeed.

With each “John Wick” film comes a longer running time. The fourth installment is just half an hour shy of being twice as long as the first film in the series. So, what do you get with the super-sized latest entry? More action sequences to start off with and the highest kill count of the franchise. Don’t ask me how many. Let’s just say it’s more than “John Wick: Chapter 2” where it averaged around 114-128. At 2 hours and 49 minutes, “4” is too long. There are a couple of scenes that should have ended up on the cutting room floor and the Montmartre stair sequence during the finale (300 steps or 432 feet) is completely ridiculous, but wicked fun. Props to Reeves’ stunt double Vincent Bouillon who really fell down all those stairs.

Former kickboxer and stuntman Chad Stahelski, the director behind all four “John Wick” films and Reeves’ stunt double in “The Matrix” franchise, was influenced by Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s filmmaking methods where the phrase “less is more” means nothing. In fact, you could say they believe that “more is less,” translated, there’s no such thing as going too far.

Despite my minor grievances, “John Wick 4” is spectacular to witness. The sets, especially the Osaka Continental Hotel is a feast for the eyes. Managed by Wick’s old friend Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada who was great in last year’s “Bullet Train”), whose daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama) serves as the concierge, the setting provides a temporary refuge for Wick against the film’s new villain the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), a powerful member of the High Table who doesn’t get his hands dirty. He’s too refined and a bit cowardly. Instead, the Marquis sends right-hand man Chidi (Marko Zaror) and a plethora of assassins to do his bidding.

For added insurance, retired blind assassin Caine (the great Donnie Yen) is hired to eradicate Wick (the two are old friends) or the High Table will kill his daughter. The “Ip Man” actor and Wing Chu grandmaster gives off “Kung Fu” vibes as a young Master Po, the Shaolin temple priest who trained David Carradine’s character, also named Caine,” in the 1972 television series. Full of grace, Yen is perfect for the role. Caine’s heightened sense of hearing and extreme skills puts his seeing antagonists at a disadvantage. The scene between Koji and Cain is one of the film’s highlights.

In “JW4” our protagonist is once again playing offense. He declares war on the High Table in a “Lawrence of Arabia”-like opening as Wick rides a horse across the Moroccan desert to confront the top of the underworld pyramid, The Elder (George Georgiou) who you may remember from “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.” He possesses Wick’s wedding ring after our anti-hero used it as an oath of fealty to spare his life and give him more time to kill EVERYONE.

Returning to the franchise, Ian McShane as Winston, the manager of the New York Continental and Wick’s closest friend, and his faithful concierge Charon played by the late Lance Reddick who just recently passed away. The film has been dedicated to the actor who created the most beloved character in the franchise. Reddick formed his vision of the character for the film by coming up with the accent and Charon’s demure yet confident personality.

Laurence Fishburne is back as the Bowery King who first made his appearance in “John Wick: Chapter 2.” He’s still up to his old tricks, helping Wick to defeat the High Table by supplying him with guns and bullet-proof suits. BTW, the Kevlar threads must be in stock at Men’s Wearhouse because even the bad guys seemed to be decked out in the suits that brush bullets away. The company should change its slogan to, “You’ll love the way you look, alive.”

New additions to the John Wick universe include a tracker and bounty hunter named Mr. Nobody played by Shamier Anderson who is never without his faithful dog, a Belgian Malinois named Black Beanie. Just hope you’re not on the receiving end when Nobody yells the command, “Nuts.” He is the most mysterious character in the film motivated only by the dollar sign. You’re never sure which side he’s on as he helps Wick several times, yet he performs a grueling act of loyalty in front of the Marquis as a sign of loyalty to the High Table.

British actor Scott Adkins, star of the “Undisputed” franchise, joins the cast as a villain named Killa. A poker aficionado who sits at the head of the German Table. He murdered the father of Katia (Natalia Tena), Wick’s adoptive sister and leader of the Ruska Roma family who has a seat at the High Table. Remember, they took John in as an orphan and raised him to become an enforcer. She agrees to bring Wick back into the fold if he murders Killa which leads to a frantic action sequence in a Berlin nightclub with a rave-like atmosphere. And there’s the wonderful Clancy Brown, famous for his role as The Kurgan in “Highlander” and most recently seen in “Dexter: New Blood,” who joins the franchise as the Harbinger, a high-ranking member of the High Table who serves as the mediator in the film’s climax.

Written by Shay Hatten and Michael Finch, who took over for Derek Kolstad, writer of the first two installments and co-writer on the third film, “John Wick 4” brings the story to a satisfying conclusion. The ending is perfect. Anything else would have been a dishonor to such a passionate franchise made whole by Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves. One pandemic and four years later, the film’s welcomed arrival, too long but breathtaking at times, manages to entertain without numbing the mind. Make sure you stay for the post-credits scene which changes the vibe of the film’s ending and hints at a future with a fresh start.

(3 ½ stars)

Now showing in theatres

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