Staring mesmerized at John Wick going on a killing spree is what I imagine it must have been like to watch Claude Monet create a work of art. But whereas Monet painted the Montmartre area of Paris as he saw it on a canvas, Wick creatively spatters the French neighborhood with a Seine’s worth of blood.
Running time: 169 minutes. Rated R (pervasive strong violence and some language.) In theaters March 24.
The assassin’s unrelenting brutality in the 100-miles-an-hour “John Wick Chapter 4” is a beautiful sight to behold — though that’s weird to admit.
On the 222 steps up to Sacre Coeur cathedral perched atop the City of Lights, Wick subdues baddie after baddie during a breathtakingly choreographed climactic battle.
Before he arrives there, a clever “Frogger”-style fight goes down at the Arc de Triomphe with John dodging traffic in the roundabout as he offs even more thugs.
Plenty of spy and mercenary movies whisk us to fabulous locales, but too often they don’t resemble or so much as evoke the genuine article. Not “John Wick.”
Nobody, including “James Bond” nowadays, takes advantage of iconic spots the way this series does.
Who can forget when “Parabellum” had Keanu Reeves gallop on a horse through Brooklyn?
Four tremendous films and nine years into the adrenaline-fueled, Reeves-led action series, director Chad Stahelski has yet to let his franchise noticeably dip in quality.
“Wick” wields an assured identity and fireworks style with the same confidence of its main character carrying a deadly pistol. The film’s use of popping color and unusual vantage points for shots is stunning — more stunning than anybody expects it to be, really.
And yet, as always with “JW,” there is barely any plot to speak of.
These are kill-or-be-killed stories, and this time the world’s greatest assassin dreams of finally being freed from the tyranny of the criminal organization the High Table that he works for.
But an elder of the shadowy group tells him, “The only way John Wick will have peace or freedom, now or ever, is in death.”
So, naturally, John shoots him.
Then, a High Table bigwig, the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), has his henchmen — including the crafty blind assassin Caine (Donnie Yen) — follow Wick to Japan to take him out at the Osaka Continental hotel.
That showdown is the first showpiece of “Chapter 4,” as John is helped by his friend Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his badass daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama).
There are samurai swords, sumo wrestlers, nunchucks, martial arts and so, so many bullets.
A later fight in a Berlin nightclub, in which revelers keep blithely dancing the night away while dudes are murdered in full view, is a tad too ridiculous and got some laughs.
At the same time, this is Germany we’re talking about.
The only way he’ll get out of this dangerous life is by dueling with the dastardly Marquis.
There’s not much talking in the “John Wick” series — the movie seems to have no more than 20 pages of dialogue — but ever-intense Reeves and his uniformly terrific supporting cast again make a strong impression with their oddball characters.
Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne are back with winks and witty retorts as Wick’s pals Winston and the Bowery King.
And Lance Reddick, who died last week at age 60, is here for the final time as Charon.
John is pursued around the world by a tracker (Shamier Anderson, likably scrappy) and his trusty pooch, who are keen to take home the $20 million reward being offered for his death.
The movie is stolen, however, by Yen’s Caine, an uber-skilled killer who resents his own genius, and Skarsgård as the maniacal Marquis. Bill, who played Pennywise the Clown in the “It” films, is quickly becoming my favorite Skarsgård — not to mention one of Hollywood’s best villains.
At two hours and 49 minutes (more than an hour longer than the first film), “4” is a bit too much of a good thing.
But, ya know, that’s the beauty of “John Wick.” If you doze off for 20 minutes, it’s easy to get up to speed: Those guys wanna kill John Wick, and John Wick wants to kill them. Done.