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The carnage and Keanu remain elegant in 'John Wick Chapter 4'

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The "John Wick" movies started with a simple premise, just Keanu Reeves as a retired hitman trying to avenge the death of his wife and dog. Then the worldbuilding started. And with each new installment, the films got more elaborate. "Chapter 4" clocks in at close to three hours of globetrotting, gunshot-riddled mayhem, and critic Bob Mondello does not sound at all unhappy about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4")

KEANU REEVES: (As John Wick) I'm going to need a gun.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Carnage and Keanu. What's not to like? Normally, I'd say the carnage, but in the "John Wick" series, when something wicked this way comes, it comes like dance, like mime, like movement so curated and elegant, it barely even registers as unsettling.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4")

MONDELLO: (As John Wick) Amen.

MONDELLO: Reviewing the earlier "Wick" films, I've talked about ballet. For this one, I'm struck by architecture. One villain...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4")

REEVES: (As John Wick) Who is this?

BILL SKARSGARD: (As Marquis) Marquis de Gramont.

MONDELLO: ...Played by a louche Bill Skarsgard has an office in Manhattan grand enough to be an airport terminal. But for more important meetings, he also has private access to the Paris Opera and the Louvre.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4")

SKARSGARD: (As Marquis) You come here thinking there is a way out of this world for you, Mr. Wick, or is not?

MONDELLO: Wick lives in a world where discos don't just have waterfalls, they are waterfalls, the better to wash away blood from mayhem with axes. Wick world hotels are entirely made up of grand public spaces. Crime families have layers that would do a Bond villain proud. And every gun fu battle - there are 14, according to the filmmakers - is backlit and color coded - green for fists, guns and swords, red for knives, guns and bows and arrows, blue for kicks, guns and nunchucks and a golden glow for a demolition derby Wick leads the wrong way round the Arc de Triomphe.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4")

MONDELLO: Stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski ensures that each cataclysm befalling Wick is spectacularly choreographed. And a gratifyingly human, empathetic and vulnerable Keanu Reeves, at 58, has the grace to appear, at least momentarily, slowed when struck by a car, dropped from a fourth-floor window or body slammed by Scott Adkins in a fat suit. He's also slowed a bit less momentarily by friendship. Wick has caring pals in Laurence Fishburne's Bowery King, who keeps him looking good...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4")

LAURENCE FISHBURNE: (As Bowery King) Forty-two regular, wasn't it?

MONDELLO: ...While armored.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4")

FISHBURNE: (As Bowery King) It's kevlar front to back, the latest in ballistic chic.

MONDELLO: Also, Ian McShane's hotel manager...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4")

REEVES: (As John Wick) Last words, Winston?

IAN MCSHANE: (As Winston) Just have fun out there.

MONDELLO: ...And the late Lance Reddick as his concierge. But the High Table, the nefarious group that's placed a price on Wick's head to attract platoons of thugs he has relatively little trouble dispatching, is also placing his buddies in his way this time, a blind assassin played by martial arts great Donnie Yen.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4")

DONNIE YEN: (As Caine) You're going to die.

REEVES: (As John Wick) Maybe not.

MONDELLO: The daughter of another pal, played by singing sensation Rina Sawayama.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4")

RINA SAWAYAMA: (As Akira) You armed?

CHANG: And for emotional resonance, a dog owner who calls himself Nobody, played by Shamier Anderson, all leading to a Parisian showdown in front of the Basilique at Sacre Coeur, which sits atop a staircase, we are told, of 222 steps. Rest assured that Wick, having arrived at the bottom, bone weary...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4")

FISHBURNE: (As Bowery King) You ready, John?

REEVES: (As John Wick) Yeah.

MONDELLO: ...Will arrive at the top, having felt every one of those steps at least once on some part of his body, his pain, as ever in this remarkable series, the films gain. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.