Inflation comes in many forms, including the running-time bloat that can afflict sequels. Hence the economical 90-some-odd minutes of “John Wick” becomes 2 hours and 49 minutes in “John Wick: Chapter 4,” a more-is-less epic that showcases the dazzling stunt work for which the franchise is known while piling on the action to near-exhausting extremes.
The film does carry an additional degree of emotional resonance, but that’s due to what happened off the screen, not on it, with the unexpected death of co-star Lance Reddick. Although Reddick occupies a smallish role, there’s a sobering note to his appearance.
Beyond that, the additional length is, charitably, devoted to presenting as much inventive mayhem as possible, with Keanu Reeves’ taciturn hitman seeking to extricate himself from his ties to the shadowy organization known as The High Table by, as usual, killing everyone, carving a path toward the sneering leader (Bill Skarsgård) who has put a sizable bounty on his head.
The film does take a step up in class opponent-wise by casting Donnie Yen as Caine, an old friend and associate of Wick’s grudgingly tasked with doing him in and every bit as skilled in the art of killing, and then killing some more. Shamier Anderson also joins the fray as a mysterious mercenary, accompanied by his equally deadly dog, whose motivations remain as hard to penetrate as Wick’s Kevlar suits.
Director Chad Stahelski mines humor from Caine’s reluctance and the over-the-top nature of the carnage, dragging out the violent sequences so long as to wear down resistance. The film again benefits from the quality of actors in the supporting roles, particularly Ian McShane’s world-weary Winston, who as always seems to steal every scene in which he appears.
The problem is that with such a large canvas and so many elaborate action pieces – including an extended fight across the heavily trafficked streets of Paris – Wick can’t help repeating his signature fighting moves over and over and over again (punch, shoot, repeat), until the effect becomes more numbing than thrilling.
The mere fact that the franchise has reached the “Chapter 4” stage underscores the equity associated with the name and Reeves’ affiliation with this sort of muscular vehicle, so heavily tilted toward action that it’s a good thing the star isn’t getting paid by the word.
At one point, Caine prefaces a skirmish with Wick by saying, “Let’s get this s**t over with,” which draws chuckles in the moment.
By the time “Chapter 4” finally closes its pages, though, the line echoes in a way that feels somewhat uncomfortably more serious and literal than intended.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” premieres March 24 in US theaters. It’s rated R.