(April 23, 2023) — According to the rules of the “John Wick” franchise, ducking is an easy way to avoid being shot. In “John Wick: Chapter 4,” the title character ducks and dodges what must amount to hundreds of bullets. He also uses his Kevlar-infused suit to block and absorb bullets.
Overlooking these violations of the laws of physics is key to enjoying the action-packed adventures of John Wick. Unfortunately, “John Wick: Chapter 4” is not as much fun as the previous installments.
After three movies, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is determined to free himself from the lifelong reigns put upon him by the High Table. We get the smallest peek behind the curtain but still do not come away knowing much about the mysterious High Table.
John spends the first half of the film reaping what he sowed. Consequences are a big part of the franchise. The few friends he has end up paying for their generosity. Some lose their assets; some pay with their lives.
Reeves has never emoted well as John. Most of his emotions come out at the end of a pistol. Yet, after three films, I really wanted to see something more out of Reeves than monotone, three-word responses.
Despite a great action sequence in an Osaka hotel, the first act, along with most of the second, is mostly plodding. The fight scene at a rave is the most ludicrous of the entire franchise. Hundreds of people continue dancing as guys take axes and bullets to the face all around them. After what seems like 15 minutes of the sequence, the crowd randomly starts running off.
Checking in at 167 minutes, the film definitely overstays its welcome. Thankfully, the latter half of the film picks up steam. The glorious, how-did-they-film-that sequence at the monstrous Arc de Triomphe roundabout in Paris shines the brightest. Bullets and cars whiz by as John dashes about, first on a motorcycle, then on foot.
A bit later, after every bounty hunter in France comes after John, an equally great sequence takes place in a burnt-out apartment building. John acquires a shotgun with incendiary rounds and begins blasting away. The camera moves high above, and for about two minutes, there are no cuts as we follow John.
Despite those scenes, and a generally pleasing ending, “John Wick: Chapter 4” just is not as much fun as the three prior films. Perhaps the upcoming prequel TV series will reinvigorate the franchise. C+
‘Dungeons and Dragons’ an enjoyable romp
Having spent only a very small part of my life with role-playing games, I still appreciate the idea behind them. I guess my imagination has never been strong enough to take pleasure in listening to a game master talk about the dragon chasing me and my friends through the dungeon.
As a very visual person, I do like video game RPGs like “Final Fantasy” and “Fire Emblem.” And I very much enjoyed the recently released film “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.”
Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein were in the unenviable position of trying to please fans of the D&D game, while also bringing in those with only a passing knowledge. They know that playing D&D can involve a lot of different emotions: laughter, excitement, suspense and sometimes even tears. They weave all four of those throughout the film.
Chris Pine is perfect as recently widowed father Edgin Darvis. He blames himself for his wife’s death and engineers a heist to steal a tablet that might bring her back. During the heist, he and a member of his gang, Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), get caught and imprisoned. When he gets out, he finds the rest of his gang is spread out across the Forgotten Realms and his daughter does not trust him anymore. She is now living under the care of an unscrupulous lout who also has the tablet.
Edgin and Holga gather up a crew, including a druid (Sophie Wallis), a fledgling wizard (Justice Smith) and a paladin (Rege-Jean Page). The interactions among this oddball group are most entertaining. As they go on their quest, the film certainly hits some “Lord of the Rings” notes; yet, thanks to the excellent casting and script, it never feels derivative. The scene where they have to continually wake the dead to ask them questions is a major highlight.
Do not worry if you have never rolled a 12-sided die. If you enjoy fantasy adventure movies, this is one of the better ones of the last several years. My favorite film of 2023 so far. A-
A superior ‘Super Mario’
“Super Mario Brothers,” the first movie based on a video game, was released in 1993. It was a critical and commercial failure. Although I was a 14-year-old fan of every game in the franchise, I still had no desire to see it.
Since then, the large majority of films based on video games have been abject failures. For every decent one like “Mortal Kombat (1995),” there are countless other celluloid abominations like “Alone in the Dark” or “Street Fighter.” Even the animated ones have not been very good.
Thirty years after the string of failures began, we get a very watchable animated “Super Mario Brothers” (2023).
The 40 films based on video games released prior to 2019’s “Pokemon: Detective Pikachu” all have Rotten Tomatoes scores below 50%. That film itself has a barely fresh 68%. Needless to say, the bar was not set very high for the new “Super Mario Brothers.”
Many have said they were displeased upon hearing that Chris Pratt would be voicing Mario. While perhaps not the best choice, I did not find it distracting. Charlie Day plays Mario’s brother Luigi, a game Seth Rogen is Donkey Kong, while Jack Black has a blast as big bad Bowser.
If you have ever played any of the Super Mario Brothers games (and who hasn’t?), the film’s plot follows the same basic formula. Mario finds himself lost in the Mushroom Kingdom and must defeat Bowser to save the talking-mushroom inhabitants.
However, this time, the princess does not need saving. Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) proves just as important to saving her land as Mario.
While the triumvirate of directors deliver enough Easter Eggs to satisfy fans, they smartly withhold a lot of characters and story. Ultimately, this will prove the right move as the film has been making a killing at the box office and will certainly spawn numerous sequels.
Initially very reluctant to revisit the cinematic world after the 1993 bomb, Nintendo has a surefire hit on their hands. Bring on a Legend of Zelda movie. B
Spring TV Roundup
The Last of Us – Over the years, many shows based on video games have tried and failed. Going forward, HBO’s “The Last of Us” should be the blueprint for how to succeed wildly. One of my all-time favorite games, “The Last of Us” was one of the first games I played that made me feel a part of the story. Creator Neil Druckmann made me feel the weight of every crucial character decision. He and his fellow showrunner Craig Mazin (creator of “Chernobyl,” the best mini-series of the past decade) masterfully transfer the feel and look (absolutely tremendous set design) of the game into the show.
In the near future, a vicious fungus has turned most of the world into zombie-like creatures. “Game of Thrones” alums Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey star as main characters Joel and Ellie. Reluctantly, Joel is placed in charge of Ellie and must get her across the country. Their onscreen chemistry burns bright. However, it is the use of the expanded world where the show takes greatest advantage. Occasionally, the story dovetails away from Joel and Ellie’s trek to showcase the lives of some of the secondary video game characters. Episode three, in particular, is the most emotionally invested I have been in an hour of television since the “Ozymandias” episode late in “Breaking Bad.” Get a box of tissues ready.
Dark Winds (AMC+) – A tight six-episode mini-series finds a 1970’s Navajo reservation Sheriff Leaphorn (Zahn McClarnon) facing not only a double murder, but pressure from the FBI to help solve a vicious armored car robbery. With its mysteries mixed up in the supernatural, “Dark Winds” stays grounded by Leaphorn and his deputies Chee and Manuelito. They are very good at their jobs, but they also have personal lives that keep getting in the way and making their jobs more difficult. As they slowly uncover details on one mystery, it unravels the beginnings of another. I’m looking forward to season two.
Ipcress File (AMC+) – Another solid import by AMC from across the pond, The Ipcress File is an old-fashioned James Bondian spy thriller. Packing a lot of plot in its six episodes, it fills the spaces between the Bay of Pigs and the JFK assassination. An English criminal-turned-spy (Joe Cole of “Gangs of London”) gets puts on the case of a missing nuclear physicist believed to be kidnapped by the Russians. Along the way, he uncovers American involvement amid the upcoming neutron bomb test. At times funny, it’s a refreshing throwback to spy tales of old.
Jeff Mellinger is a screen writer and film buff. He holds a BA in Film Studies and an MFA in film production. He lives in Concord.