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Long Live Wick 

click to enlarge I don't think of myself as anti-gun so much as pro-nunchuck.

John Wick: Chapter 4

I don't think of myself as anti-gun so much as pro-nunchuck.

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4. Having revealed that I had been to see this at one of the earliest available showings — with the Editor and an intermediary, but that's another story — I was asked by a friend where I would rank it in the Wick canon. I replied without hesitation, that it is No. One. I followed this with the pronouncement that John Wick: Chapter 4 might be the greatest movie ever made. This was met with laughter; I wasn't really joking.

I realize how flippant, even potentially specious it sounds. Further, I understand the undercurrent of negative response to movies that, in an era of ever-increasing gun violence, create art and entertainment from grandest scale death-dealing. On the other hand, I am and will continue to be an acolyte of the separation of art and reality, inextricable though they may sometimes seem. Cinematic violence offers, especially in an imagined, elevated world like the one through which Keanu Reeves' Mr. Wick rampages, a sort of exhilarating catharsis, a release from the horrors and drudgeries of Real Life.

This perspective, of course, is hardly new: It has been deployed in defense of comic books and stand-up comedy and, yes, violent movies for the better part of a century. Admittedly, it can feel a little shopworn to re-mount the defense, lo these decades on. But I think our current cultural moment — or the sickening landslide of ongoing moments that comprises current culture — begs revisiting it. We are a species rapidly conjoining itself with its own created technology — technology that, when the visitors excavate the archives, will seem to them to have outmatched our inadequate mammal brains. And they won't be wrong: We are all become little Oppenheimers and the virtual space our Alamogordo.

Tenuous point being, while I understand the distaste for or dismissal of violent movies — as The Editor put it, "Not everyone is up for 12-minute knife fights" [Editor's note: she is] — it seems more important than ever that we should understand and acknowledge the unavoidable reality of appearance versus reality, both in our daily lives and in our entertainments. We should also acknowledge the monumental care, craft and effort required to create a nearly three-hour masterpiece of assorted mayhem.

The Wick series has, more than almost any other, made a distinct and lasting point to constantly elevate the scope and level of detail of its movies. Admirers might cite the Fast and Furious or Mission Impossible franchises as rivals or counterpoints, and those are conversations worth having. As this is a monologue, though, I'll go so far as to say the former has ventured so far afield into cartoonery (partially colored by the behind scenes cattiness of its stars) that it is of some other ilk entirely. And the latter, while certainly at the table, lacks some of the pan-cultural inclusiveness and, yes, silliness, that have become integral, vital parts of the (bulletproof) fabric of the Wick mythology.

I will brook no Marvel discussions.

To return to my ever-diminishing point, each Wick has been broader, deeper and more colorful than the last, the perhaps unexpected success of each allowing the next access to more and better: equipment, locations, casting, etc. Simultaneously, though, the action has become ever more focused, the fighting so detailed, so varied, the stunts so seemingly impossible, that at some point the movies began to transcend action movie making.

Director Chad Stahelski (and David Leitch) essentially created a new genre with John Wick (2014), a high-and-low amalgam of unreal stunt-work set against a stylized, vividly imagined world of assassins and their counterparts. None of which could exist without the imagination of writer Derek Kolstad, of course, but I can't help but think (only guessing) the movie has a very different, lively identity than it did on the page, or would have if executed by different directors. While Wick opened the door for a new era of action moviemaking, no one has yet approached its art and scale; Leitch came close with Atomic Blonde (2017). Furthermore, the series has continued to meet and exceed its own self-imposed standards to such a degree that it becomes impossible to imagine what will come next. And each time, any attempt to do so is defied with breathtaking, often hysterical results.

The thing about John Wick: Chapter 4, then, is that it not only once again raises the technical stakes in the choreography and execution of its (many) stunt sequences, but also the level of craft across the board. The screenplay — Shay Hatten and Michael Finch are credited — deepens and vivifies our imagined world, touching on four continents and introducing new and indelible characters to the mythology. The production design, cinematography, editing, costuming — the Editor takes issue with the tailoring of the bad guys' little gray suits; I respectfully disagree — even the references to world action cinema are on their own new level.

I'm biased, but I haven't seen anything to rival the level of commitment and craft on display in every frame of this movie in a long, long time.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

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Fortuna Theatre is temporarily closed due to earthquake damage. For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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