By Stacy Nguyen
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Four out of four stars
Before I tucked in to watch “John Wick: Chapter 4” at an 11 p.m. showing on a Sunday its opening weekend, I pulled out my phone and did a quick Google search as the lights dimmed. I was wondering how long this movie would run and when I was gonna get out of the theater.
Uh, its runtime is 169 minutes. That’s 10 minutes shy of three hours.
Clutching a soda the size of a four-month-old human baby, I was like: OMG, I have made a huge error in judgment. I’m not gonna get out of here before 2 a.m. I am going to fall asleep! And I have work in the morning!
But then the lights got super dark, the movie screen blasted my retinas with the gorgeous and frenetic image of Keanu Reeves (the main character, John Wick) really capably riding a horse in the desert and murdering randos with such panache, wearing black from head to toe no less—that I was like: OMG, this is really exciting already! He must be so hot and so damp in his suit though. Whoa, Keanu is really good at horses.
And guys, probably around the 40-minute mark of the movie, I knew—I just knew—that I was watching possibly the greatest movie ever made. I was watching a goddamn masterpiece painted by a freaking artist (director Chad Stahelski, a stuntman and Reeves’ stunt double in “The Matrix”), embodied by one of the greatest action actors of our time.
I stayed awake the entire time. I barely blinked because I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the screen. And I also drank half of my baby-sized Coke and needed to pee real bad but I didn’t let myself go pee—because I didn’t want to miss one freaking moment.
I’ll tell you what else I did. After I finished the movie, drove my butt home, peed a lot, and crawled into bed, I turned on my projector (because I’m fancy; get over it), and I put on the original-slash-first “John Wick” and watched that for almost an hour before I zonked out for real.
And then I woke up thinking about John Wick.
Here’s a confession: I actually have avoided the “John Wick” franchise until now. It’s because of the whole dog death thing (which happens in the first movie, and it’s not a spoiler because that movie was marketed as a revenge movie spurred on by a dog, and you also can’t be spoiled by movies that are nine years old, but also: I’m sorry). I didn’t think I could stomach dog death back in 2014.
But also, nobody really made it clear to me that I needed to stomach dog death in order to get to the beautifully crafted and choreographed fight scenes that look almost ballet-like in their precision and detail. Nobody told me about the ever-expanding but totally comprehensible world-building. Nobody told me I would care so much for a man who would definitely be a super talented violent psychopath if not for the freaking oppressive weight of the pathos and vulnerability and mortality that he laboriously shoulders from each excruciating second of violence to the next.
One of the many things that struck me about “John Wick: Chapter 4” was how good of an actor Reeves is.
If you are old enough to remember a time before Sad Keanu became a meme and before Reeves developed a reputation for being the kindest Hollywood star on the planet, you might remember that Reeves was often described as a below-average, wooden actor with undefinable yet undeniable star power and charisma. And before that, before he really blew up with the “Matrix” franchise, he was often ridiculed for being dumb along with lacking talent.
I winced a lot watching “John Wick: Chapter 4,” yes, because the human body gets smacked so hard so much, but also because I truly wanted this poor man to feel safe and to have even just a moment to catch his breath—and I felt all of these empathy pangs because I felt so bad that he just had to keep subsiding and surviving. I also felt so much dread the entire time because I was so nervous that life was going to be unfair to him.
Also, I watched his face a lot during the fight scenes—and he legit looked so scared sometimes—and it really struck me because, in this genre of movie, I don’t think we often see action heroes embody moments of pure hopelessness.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” is totally bananas—hyperbolic in all the ways you expect this kind of movie to be—but it also felt really grounded and tragically human.
And that is due to an actor who can carry that story and tell it through his body—as he also carries us through, like, half an hour of straight-up-no-pause gun fighting. It’s crazy. He is an amazing actor.
Lastly, the Asian quotient is off the charts in this movie. Obvi Reeves is one of us, duh, but this movie also features film and martial arts legends Donnie Yen and Hiroyuki Sanada. (They totally fight each other at one point in the movie! Kinda a spoiler, but I feel like people really want to know this! Also: Sorry.)
“John Wick: Chapter 4” is playing in almost every movie theater everywhere. You cannot stream it yet—for good reason. It needs to be seen on a ginormous screen.
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.