Review – Relentless Reeves (“John Wick: Chapter 4”)

Director Chad Stahelski has stated that this John Wick chapter will be the final installment in the violent, bloody revenge franchise. However, never say never as star Keanu Reeves has hinted at going “as long as the audience wants me”. So, you know what that means, right? 

We pick up from the events of chapter three where, if you recall, John Wick (Reeves) was unexpectantly shot by his friend, Winston (Ian McShane), fell several stories to the ground, and was picked up by his colleague, the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne). What does John have in mind after being treated like this? What else? Revenge against his former employees, the High Table! Meanwhile, New York Continental Hotel manager Winston and his concierge, Charon (the late Lance Reddick), are summoned to see pompous little twit, the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard), a senior member of the High Table, who punishes Winston for his failure to assassinate John. Speaking of which, John has taken up temporary refuge at Japan’s Osaka Continental Hotel, run by Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his kick-ass daughter, Akira (Rina Sawayama).

But after a devasting fight there, John is on the run again and pursued by two men: an old friend & colleague, Caine (Donnie Yen), a blind swordsman, and Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson), a bounty hunter/tracker who protects John. . . until the money is right, that is. But trying to kill everyone on the High Table is impossible, so Winston suggests to John a compromise: challenge the Marquis to a duel under the old rules! The Marquis accepts, but first John must be welcome back into his old Russian “family” in Berlin, and that means killing a mob boss (Scott Adkins), who’s a cross between Colin Farrell’s Penguin and Sydney Greenstreet! Anyway, once that’s done, John’s in Paris with the Marquis, along with the Harbinger (Clancy Brown) who’ll preside over the duel. Problem is, John has to wait until sunrise until the duel can take place and, in a scene straight out of The Warriors, a Parisian DJ tells every assassin in France to go after John!

Honestly, John Wick should be an MCU superhero, ’cause no human could ever live through the shootings, stabbings, beatings, and ridiculous physical abuse his body is subjected to. To see this man survive being hit by a car, fall off a building, and get thrown down a long flight of stairs and still keep going? Naw. . . he’s not human. I will say this, for a fourth entry, writers Shay Hatten (John Wick 3) and Michael Finch (Hitman: Agent 47) have given us another winner. The story is, of course, just a reason to get from A to B to C with John Wick doing what he does best: killing hundreds of people in the most awesome ways possible. Guns, blades, swords, cars, motorcycles, nun-chucks, his fists, anything he can find is a lethal weapon. It gets exhausting watching him murder so many people! 

Stahelski, who has directed all the John Wick movies, has cited Japanese cinema as a major influence in this fourth installment, especially movies like Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman and Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai. And baby, he does not disappoint! You’d think after three movies his camera work and stunts would become old hat and boring, but no! Stahelski keeps coming up with incredible ways to film the most eye-popping stunt work and set pieces you’ve ever seen. And check out the lavish and jaw-dropping set design, too! At a little over two hours, some of these shootings, fights, and brawls do tend to outstay their welcome, but for a finale to a franchise, it was a magnificent send-off.

**Now showing only in theaters  

Zatoichi (2003)

aka Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

Zatoichi, the blind swordsman, has got quite a history! 100 TV episodes and 26 films were made about this guy! Even Tristar Films in 1989 tried to remake it with Rutger Hauer (Blind Fury) without much success. This movie is actually a cleverly edited-down version of the TV series to make a single two-hour movie.

But there’s your problem right there. In whittling down 100 TV episodes into a single movie, a lot is lost in translation, most notably the plot. In this feature film, we have Zatoichi (Takeshi Kitano), an MCU superhero along the lines of Daredevil, as his hearing and “sight” are dialed up to 11. Set in old feudal Japan, Zatoichi travels the land like Bruce Banner as a masseur with a love to gamble, until he stumbles into a small village where (surprise! surprise!) they’re being harassed by not one, but two warring warlords! Zatoichi befriends a local farmer (Miychio Okuso) who has a no-account, lazy nephew named Shinkichi (Guadalcanal Taka) that really sucks at gambling.

Running as a parallel story is a traveling ronin, Hattori Gennosuke (Tadanobu Asano), a lethal and highly skilled samurai looking for employment as he’s caring for his ailing wife (Yui Nakusawa). He decides to hook up with the local yakuza, Boss Ginzo (Ittoku Kishibe) who uses his impressive blade as a bodyguard against the other crime boss in town. But what nobody knows is, there’s a third story waiting in the wings, and it’s revealed in the second act as Shinkichi takes Zatoichi to a local brothel for some fun. There they meet two lovely geishas, O-sei Naruto (Daigoro Tachibana) and O-kinu Naruto (Yuku Daike), only these two are out for bloody revenge!

Looks like Lord Sakai (Kohji Miura), the head of the other gang, put out a hit on the entire Naruto family years before! They were the only survivors and O-sei even disguised himself as a geisha to fool the others as they cut a bloody swath avenging their family’s honor. Naturally, these four team up and decide to take down both houses in a climatic third act full of clashing samurai blades, splurting blood, body parts being hacked off, an impressive body count, plus the requisite final showdown between the invincible Zatoichi and the unbeatable Hattori.

This movie has its good points and bad. Personally, I really love Japanese samurai films and this one missed the mark by way of its editing and choppy storytelling. But that was to be expected with cutting 100 TV episodes down to this movie. It has odd flashbacks (even flashbacks within flashbacks!) and introduces characters that mean nothing to the plot. Worse yet, and this was my biggest gripe, the overuse of really bad CGI effects of swords and blood. C’mon, guys, this is supposed to be a samurai film! Don’t use super fake computer graphic blood and blades! That’s just embarrassing, man.

On the other hand, Takeshi Kitano, served as not only the film’s lead actor but the director as well! An impressive feat to be sure. Okay, so the editing is choppy which makes the story hard to follow at times, but ya gotta hand it to Kitano who handles his blade like a true badass. The direction is very good and not sloppy when it comes to fight choreography. Not a bad film but I’ve seen better.

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