By Sean Gallagher
We’re just a few weeks away from the release of John Wick: Chapter 4 and I’m pretty excited. It’s one of my most anticipated movies of 2023 and a chief reason for that is knowing that leading man Keanu Reeves will be fighting Donnie Yen at least once. It just might take a while to get to that fight, as the movie’s runtime has been recently revealed to be almost three hours long. For context, the first John Wick is 101 minutes, Chapter 2 is 122 minutes and Chapter 3: Parabellum is 130 minutes, so this is quite the increase in runtime. Should we be worried that the movie is too long? Let’s break it down.
Why I’m Excited
One of my personal favourite things about the John Wick movies is this fascination with its own unique lore. John Wick isn’t just a kick-ass action series, but one that’s borderline a fantasy series, a world beyond our own with its own rules, currency, customs etc. It’s like Narnia, but for assassins. The series has been progressively adding to this lore as the series goes on and John Wick Chapter 2 ends up being my favourite in the series to date for its balance of awesome action and an interesting world.
While John Wick: Chapter 2 is my favourite, I do think Chapter 3: Parabellum has the best action. Each film in the franchise has been upping the quality of its action scenes, so knowing that Donnie Yen is the endgame of Chapter 4 has me excited and we’ll get a ton of action scenes between the start and end of the movie. The Raid 2, one of the best action films of all time I’d argue, is around two and a half hours and it comes off as a crime epic that just so happens to have stellar action in it. I hope that John Wick 4 ends up feeling like an epic of Hollywood past, but for the action genre. Director Chad Stahelski stated that the film certainly “feels more epic” than previous entries and would cite in an interview with Esquire that this movie feels like Zatochi and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly wrapped in a Greek Myth. I wonder if the runtime contributes to these claims. I think that would subvert expectations and if it can pull it off, it could be an amazing feat. Considering Chapter 4 is the most international the series has gone to date, with locations in Jordan, France and Japan, the film certainly has the scope to back up the promise of a modern Western/Samurai epic.
Why I’m Worried
All that being said, a nearly three-hour runtime does have me concerned at the same time. The franchise isn’t known for being “epic”, it’s kept things tight and focused with an average of two hours per movie. We got peaks into this Elseworld, but we never got the full picture, which created this sense of mystery and wonder that worked wonderfully for this series. But if Chapter 4 is almost three hours long, perhaps that veil of mystery will get pulled back too far, which could take the fun out of the intrigue. Three hours is a lot of screentime and it’ll have to be filled somehow and I do worry that John Wick Chapter 4 will be a victim of showing too many of its cards to the audience.
There’s also a concern of bloat. There’s been a lot of three-ish hour movies lately that I feel didn’t have to be that long. Whether it’s The Batman, Avatar: The Way of Water, I feel that these longer movies didn’t have to be as long as they were, with ten to twenty minutes being ripe for the cutting room floor. So I worry that this movie will end up feeling long and bloated as a result. John Wick Chapter 4 is the first film in the franchise to shake up its writing team, operating without series creator Derek Kolstad, so maybe that explains the wildly longer runtime relative to its predecessors.
With the longer runtime comes the fear of burnout. What makes action movies so great is the creativity and how well it’s shot. But the longer the movie, the higher the risk of fatigue. I’m totally going to this movie largely for the action, but even I can admit that too much of a good thing might be a bad thing. So I can definitely say I’m worried that John Wick 4 may lean too heavily into style instead of substance, something the other movies have all managed to balance, with Parabellum showing signs of a shakier foundation when it comes to story.
In the end, I’m still really excited for John Wick: Chapter 4. I’m invested in this world and the action is some of the best to hit the big screen in recent years. I like the promise of an epic action film that’s comprised of a medley of genres, but I also worry that the movie is taking on too much. We’ll find out in just a few weeks if John Wick 4 can deliver on these promises when it hits the big screen on March 24th.
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