*What follows is less a review of John Wick Chapter 4 and more a collection of thoughts about where the country and culture is on guns at the moment.
This past week the boogeyman rampaged through American cinemas for the fourth time, adding to his already gaudy body count. Indeed, nabbing the second best opening weekend of John Wick Chapter 4 did this weekend to its box office foes what its titular assassin does to his targets: destroy them. Across nearly 3 hours Mr. Wick executes 140 assailants in a variety of creative manners but also in some regrettably familiar ones.
Outside the fantasy world of John Wick, America is grappling with its own unceasing carnage. On Monday, just 3 days after the release of the latest installment in the Keanu Reeves starring shoot-em-up series, Covenant School in Nashville Tennessee saw an attacker armed with semi-automatic weapons kill 6 people, 3 of them children. A horrifying preventable tragedy made all the worse by the knowledge that absolutely nothing will be done in response.
Look, I am well aware that these two events are not related, anyone trying to blame violent movies for this nation’s gun epidemic is trying to distract you from the gun epidemic itself. That being said, films like John Wick are themselves the more benign symptom of a culture obsessed with guns and quite frankly I’m tired of it. Chapter 4 backs off the gun play to some degree, not surprising as Chapter 3 premiered in the wake of yet another deadly mass shooting, that one at the University of North Carolina, and just before the deadly Virginia Beach mass shooting. Call it bad timing but, in a country this riddled with gun death, there clearly isn’t good timing for films reveling in the devastating power of firearms.
And Chapter 4 really is an improvement. For the first time since 2014’s John Wick, this chapter does not include a character caressing a gun and describing it to the titular hero as if it were a renaissance painting. Much of the intricately choreographed fight sequences involve swords, knives, vehicles and — in a fun sequence — playing cards. But then, as always it becomes about the guns. It’s always about the guns. Bloody stops in New York, Osaka and Casablanca culminate in Wick blasting his way through Paris, one incendiary bullet at a time.
At the end of the day, the John Wick films are just entertainment, not responsible for the ever-present tragedy rained down upon the American public. At what point though will that death weary public find this particularly violent brand of entertainment to be too much? No matter how propulsive the stunt work or complex the world-building, I have found it to be very difficult to sit through the last couple Wick films.
Certainly people will say that these are just movies and fantasy ones at that. While that argument is undoubtedly true, they’re also a reflection of the massive amount of fetishization in this country around guns and gun culture. And the violence depicted is far from fantasy. According to the Gun Violence Archive** over 10,000 people have been killed by guns in the United States in just the first 3 months of this year, nearly 500 of them children. Action movies should be an escape and right now, movies like John Wick Chapter 4 just aren’t.
Again, none of this is to take away from the incredible production work being done on the entire John Wick series. I will be seeing the Ana De Armas helmed spin-off Ballerina whenever that hits screens and surely will attend a screening of the rumored fifth installment of the mainline Wick series when that comes along too. My hope in all of this is simply that we, as a society, can get past this obsession with killing machines. I would love to see more franchises like Mission Impossible that sensationalize defying death rather than delivering it through a barrage of bullets.