By the time the credits rolled on John Wick: Chapter 4, I was ready to run through a brick wall. I had so much adrenaline pumping through me I wanted to bench-press a bus. The only other time I walked out of a theater feeling that way was Mad Max: Fury Road. Yes, I am well aware of what even mentioning George Miller’s masterpiece in this review implies. That was intentional. Because John Wick: Chapter 4 isn’t just the best installment in the series. It’s on the very short list of greatest action movies ever made.
If I were currently filming an action movie or had plans to, I’d probably find another line of work after seeing John Wick: Chapter 4. What this movie accomplishes—amazing scene after amazing scene—is hard to believe. That’s especially true of its many action sequences, which are each triumphs unto themselves.
Chapter 4 features multiple, lengthy sequences full of showdowns, mass battles, assassins, and giant sets. On their own, each and every one of them is more entertaining, better filmed, and more technically impressive than the entirety of what most action franchises offer. If the movie’s first big set piece—which trumps anything from the first three films—were its only main action, this would be an incredible movie. Every time you think this opening salvo can’t possibly get better, it does, adding more characters, locations, and fights. And that happens again and again and again, even when you’re sure they’ve exhausted all possibilities for what is even possible. It just keeps going, adding to the intensity and fun. That might sound tedious in print, but it’s the total opposite. Chapter 4 consistently turns the dial up even when you’re sure it can’t go any higher, getting better every time it does.
This long sequence happens early in the movie and sets a bar that feels impossible for the rest of the film to live up to. Yet somehow does, repeatedly, and in the same way. The continuous, never-ending approach happens with the next action sequence. And the next. And the next. From an out-of-this-world battle amid speeding cars in front of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, to a shootout inside an abandoned building that captures the unbridled joy of a video game, as soon as the movie ended, I wanted to rewatch the whole thing despite it being two hours and 49 minutes long. Somehow, Chapter 4 doesn’t merely justify its lengthy runtime, it makes you wish it kept going.
But while the film’s action, among the very best ever put to screen, is enough to carry the movie, it’s not as though this is just a technical marvel of fight choreography and cinematography. The story of John Wick 4 is compelling and well-paced. It features a script that is both funny and poignant. And the cast is also incredible from top to bottom. John Wick’s quest to get his freedom from the High Table has made him more dangerous than ever. No one in the criminal underworld is safe from his wrath. In response, the High Table gives Bill Skarsgård’s Marquis Vincent de Gramont—an ambitious, sophisticated, ruthless schemer—unlimited power to deal with Baba Yaga. There’s no blood he won’t shed in the name of sending a message and building his standing. He also hires some of the most formidable foes John Wick has ever faced.
Skarsgård’s performance makes the Marquis the John Wick franchise’s best villain yet. He’s absolutely perfect in the role, eating up scenery in the best way, even during his most understated moments. He’s far from the only cast member operating at that level, though. This is Keanu Reeves’s best performance in the series as well. (He should probably sleep for a year after shooting this movie). He conveys John’s exhaustion, grief, compassion, and dedication even during huge fights. And the movie also provides us with the best of Ian McShane’s Winston. This is high praise considering how good he is in the first three films, too.
Meanwhile, franchise newcomer Hiroyuki Sanada provides what might be the best cameo in John Wick history. He plays Osaka Continental manager Shimazu Koji and delivers some of the most poignant lines in the series, all while showing off his legendary fighting skills. Shamier Anderson, a skilled assassin named the Tracker who employs his own loyal dog during hunts, is also a great addition to the film. Rina Sawayama as Koji’s daughter Akira, and Clancy Brown as High Table servant the Harbinger also shine in their roles. And despite how ridiculous he looks in posters and trailer, Scott Adkins Killa is a Dick Tracy-esque villain who makes perfect sense in the surreal, heightened, comic book-like reality the film takes place in.
But even in a movie with standout performances, one stands above them all like the Elder stands above the High Table: Donnie F***ing Yen. (After this movie, he should legally be required to make that his middle name.) Yen plays Caine, an assassin who is blind and one of the best action movie characters ever. Caine believed himself free of service to the High Table but is forced by the Marquis to hunt down his former friend to keep his daughter safe. Caine is always calm but fierce and equal parts heartbreaking and hilarious. He’s also 100% cool as shit. And he’s not just cooler than John Wick, he’s the one true equal Baba Yaga has ever faced.
It’s easy to see why the two were friends. The fact the movie finds a logical way to force them to fight makes the culmination of their battle incredibly powerful and emotional. As did the uneasy renewal of a relationship between John and Winston ( teased in the trailers). Chapter 4 knows how to use the franchise’s lore and backstory to give everything that happens meaning.
Between the truly unbelievable action, the emotional weight of the story, and the sharp dialogue, John Wick: Chapter 4 had my well-behaved audience cheering, jeering, and gasping by the end. All of which was totally justified. The movie’s pure power builds you to such a frenzy you need an outlet for all the energy you feel watching it. Better to yell than actually run through a brick wall.
If all this gushing sounds too good to be true, that’s because it should be. John Wick was already great, among the best action movie franchises ever. It shouldn’t be possible to deliver something this much better than its predecessors at this point. This isn’t like Fast Five, which suddenly found true greatness after four entries. Nor is this Mission: Impossible, which only went to that special level in its fourth movie. John Wick was already at that level. Now, somehow, it’s at a much higher one reserved for a mere handful of action films like Die Hard and Terminator 2.
Mad Max: Fury Road might be the best action movie ever made. That’s why it’s unfair to mention most movies in the same breath as it. But not in this case. John Wick: Chapter 4 hasn’t usurped that crown from George Miller’s classic, but that’s about the only compliment you can’t give it. And like Fury Road, the film has changed what an action movie can be. Even while you’re watching it, you can’t believe it’s real. It’s a marvel of filmmaking, a creative explosion made with joy and combined with a technical prowess few films even attempt, let alone pull off. It’s everything you could ever want and more from a moviegoing experience. You’ll want to cry, scream, and cheer long after it ends.
Just don’t try to bench-press a bus when it’s over. I’m not stupid. No matter how this movie made me feel, I know a single viewing wouldn’t make that possible. But seeing it twice might.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike, and also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.