John Wick 4 is bigger, better, badder than any other fighting-focused action movie, ever. It improves on the earlier installments with its creativity, scale, and precision. Of course, I am only talking about the fighting. The plot was relatively weak, as it was in the others, but man was the fighting good. The people who said it was too long were wrong.
In John Wick 4, nearly every character, no matter how insignificant, wears a bullet-proof suit. As best I can tell, these suits are still mostly science-fiction12 (please correct me in the comments if you know better.) When the suit was introduced in the second installment, it was a simple plot device to keep us from rolling our eyes everytime John came out of a fight magically unscathed by a storm of bullets. By the fourth movie, it has transformed the entire fighting dynamic to allow for a new, more belivable fighting style that requires more martial arts than bullet-dodging.
When John Wick was released in 2014, it became an immediate classic, and my favorite action movie. While the plot made little sense, the film established an interesting lore that was enough not to distract from the main attraction: Keanu killing hoards of thugs in near-constant hand-to-hand combat. Unlike most action movies, John Wick didn’t use any tricks to distract the viewer from the fights. No shaking camera. No sketchy cuts. No seeing the back of a stuntman’s head in the middle of a fight.
John Wick had a problem though, a problem most action movies face. People are not bulletproof. Unless the hero is superhuman, they cannot be shot repeatedly and walk away, at least believably. Most movies solve this problem unconvincingly, by having the hero luckily dodge bullets throughout the entire movie. Minor characters and even side-kicks will die along the away, but the hero will not be mortally shot in a gunfight.
This lowers the stakes for the viewer. I know the hero will not die, especially in the first 95% of the movie, so I lose the suspense. Combine that with a shakey camera and unconvincing fighting, and I am snoozing.
The John Wick franchise goes a different direction. Everyone knows that John Wick is not going to be shot dead in the middle of a fight with some grunt 20 minutes into the movie, so there is no need to pretend there is any chance of that happening. Instead, the franchise introduces bullet-proof suits in the second movie, and they are presented rather convincingly.
At first, this suit is reserved for John Wick and other high-level foes, but the regular folk are cut down via gunshot on a regular basis. This is true throughout the second and third installments. In the fourth, however, even the generic henchmen have bullet-proof suits.
While it took me aback at first, I must admit, I quickly became to appreciate the move as genius. No more generic bullet-dodging firefights. Now the rule is simple: put the bullet in the dude’s head. That’s the only way. This forces the characters to get close to each other in order to score a kill. Otherwise, they would back up and keep shooting at each other until one gets hit, like most movies.
Instead, we get nearly 3 hours of a new kind of martial arts, that usually involes rolling, wrestling, punching, or kicking until one guy points his gun at the other’s head and pulls the trigger.
P.S. – My favorite John Wick scene.
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