The One Infuriating Thing About the JOHN WICK Sequels

I love the John Wick movies. And I’m guessing so do you. The fourth one made a hundred million more than the third one. If there is one thing that our divided nation can agree upon, it’s that we all love watching Keanu Reeves strut around in an immaculate suit and shoot fools in the face. The fact that each successive film is also an audio-visual feast of immaculate compositions, uniting high and low art in endless dazzling combinations, that’s just icing on the cake. The murder-cake.


With the John Wick saga (allegedly) concluded, I look back over the glorious carnage and the wonderful bloody mayhem, and I can’t help but feel somewhat dissatisfied. Not with the mayhem and the carnage, God no, but with a key narrative choice that came to dominate both the third and fourth films.

At the end of Chapter 2, Winston (Ian McShane) informs John that he has been deemed “excommunicado” and soon the forces of the High Table, the unseen, godly rulers of the hidden world of assassins, will come after him. John in turn warns Winston that if anyone does come after him, he’ll “kill them all.”

So when I sat down for Chapter 3, I was excited at the prospect of a movie that would be about John Wick fighting his way through wave after wave of killers, with the High Table itself as the final Big Bad to be bested.

Except that isn’t what Chapter 3 is about.

Instead, the bulk of the film is not John battling it out against the Table, but desperately trying to regain their favor and be freed from the death sentence placed on him at the end of 2.

A surprise and a disappointment to be sure, but the ending of 3 promised that the longed for confrontation had only been delayed rather than cancelled. 3 ends with the aggrieved Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) recruiting a wounded John to his own revolutionary cause, declaring open war on the Table, its underlings, and the entire system that subjugates the individual and mercilessly punishes any who dare oppose it.

Eagerly, I sat down for the fourth and final (allegedly) chapter, ready to see John Wick bring the fight right to the fuckers’ doorstep. Doorsteps. There may or may not be multiple doors, who’s to say.

Except, that isn’t what Chapter 4 is about.

Instead, John Wick kills one (1) member of the High Table in the opening minutes, only for the film to remind him, and tell us, that there’s really no point in killing members of the High Table because when one, or any, of them die, they are simply replaced. Kill one, kill a hundred, it doesn’t matter. The system will keep on going, not even recognizing the number of bodies it rolls right over.

I kept waiting for Chapter 4 to at any point return to the righteous, revolutionary fervor of 3’s conclusion.

Nothing doing.

Chapter 4 instead introduces Bill Skarsgard as the exquisitely loathsome Marquis, a sort of stand-in for the evils of the High Table, with victory over him symbolizing triumph over the ruling class. But the victory rings hollow. At every step of the way John (and Winston, and the Bowery King, and new characters like Donnie Yen’s Caine and Shamier Anderson’s Tracker) continue to play by the rules, never again daring to consider that the rules themselves might be challenged.

Fishburne’s King is especially poorly served by this narrative swerve. He ends 3 declaring war on the elites who ignored him, then looked down on him, then tried to squash him as they might a bug. But by 4, all his fire and brimstone has sputtered out and his function now appears to be little more than serving as John Wick’s Q. Delivering his messages, watching his dog, supplying him with weaponry and gear.

I’ve yet to see anyone else bring up this line of criticism, so maybe it’s just me. Ultimately, it’s a minor quibble in the midst of a masterwork, outshouted by and largely unnoticed amongst the onslaught of excellence in all other fields.

I wish it didn’t bother me.

But it did.

It does.

It continues to.

The simple, and correct, response is that that is just not the story that Reeves, director Chad Stahelski, and the various writers chose to tell. Their chosen storyline brings the John Wick saga out of the canon of American action films and connects it closer to something like the long tradition of samurai films from Japan. The rigid societal structures depicted in such films do not allow for any challenge either, with a characters’ ethical nature being determined by how they conduct themselves in the face of such unyielding circumstances. If tradition dictates that you must suffer, your worth is not determined by how you escape that suffering, but by how best you stand it.

I might argue that the beloved worldbuilding of the John Wick movies becomes something of a problem here. We all love the nonsensical system of gold coins, markers, tickets, sanctified grounds, etc., but that same vagueness makes it difficult to invest in ironclad notions, such as that the High Table cannot be challenged or overthrown. Why not? Chapter 4 especially leans hard on the notion that John Wick has finally found a problem he can’t just shoot his way out of, without necessarily putting in the legwork to justify why he can’t at least give it the ol’ college try.

Perhaps now that the story is fully and finally told (allegedly), it will be easier to look back at John Wick’s story as a whole and appreciate what it is, rather than what I continued to want it to be. Not, ultimately, the story of a man determined to defy the gods, but instead the story of a man who came to accept that the gods cannot be defied, and made his own form of peace underneath that knowledge.


But I tend to think not. Maybe it’s something in my own nature, some old defiance forever seeking an excuse to defy, that cannot accept there being an institution impervious to revolution. And that part of me, that portion of my being that longs to come face to face with the Devil so I could spit on his cheek and watch it sizzle (I stole that from The Dark Tower. Thanks Uncle Stevie.) might just never get on board with the fact that the John Wick movies kept feinting towards a cleansing fire, only to repeatedly prove unwilling to strike the match.

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