Keanu Reeves as the title character in  "John Wick: Chapter...

Keanu Reeves as the title character in  "John Wick: Chapter 4." Credit: Lionsgate/Murray Close

PLOT A rogue hit man gambles his fate on a single duel.

CAST Keanu Reeves, Bill Skarsgård, Donnie Yen

RATED R (strong graphic violence)


WHERE Area theaters.

BOTTOM LINE Nearly three hours of John Wick? You’re gonna need a bigger popcorn.

The price of milk may be rising, but one staple hasn’t succumbed to inflation: the “John Wick” franchise. What began in 2014 as a 100-minute thriller with Keanu Reeves in the title role of a vengeful assassin has now ballooned into a nearly three-hour epic. That’s a 70% increase in gunfights, car crashes and cracked skulls! It’s enough to feed an entire family of pulp-starved cineastes.

The latest in this action-fantasy-samurai-noir series also offers something unexpected: a moment of poignancy thanks to Lance Reddick as Charon, the impeccably tailored concierge at the New York Continental Hotel (Wick’s favorite haunt). Reddick’s death, just a week before the film’s Friday release, gives his brief scenes perhaps more emotional heft than intended. Ian McShane, returning as the hotel’s ever-charming owner, Winston, will have to carry on without his castmate.

Those two are among the few recurring roles in a franchise that, Bond-like, invents new characters for each entry. We meet Wick’s loyal friend Shimazu (Hiroyuki Sanada), who ushers in a magnificent battle in an Osaka hotel involving swords, nunchucks and a paramilitary invasion. There’s also a guy called the Tracker (Shamier Anderson), whose best friend is a Belgian Malinois — a potential weak spot for the dog-loving Wick. By far the best new addition is Caine, a blind assassin played by a show-stealing Donnie Yen. Alternating between sixth-sense martial artistry and helpless fumbling, Yen comes on like Bruce Lee with a hint of Charlie Chaplin.

Former stuntman Chad Stahelski once again stages the wildest, most complicated, least plausible action sequences he can dream up. The results are dependably thrilling (a spiraling car chase around Paris’s Arc de Triomphe) and occasionally jaw-dropping (yet another signature, minutes-long take, this one of Wick blowing away baddies with some kind of flaming bazooka). Anchoring the insanity is Reeves, of course, at 58 still looking sharp in a slim suit and bringing a riveting intensity to such lines as: “Yeah.”

By the time Wick reaches his big showdown with the aristocratic Marquis (an underwritten character, but nicely played by Bill Skarsgård), you might be feeling as overstuffed as the movie. One thing you won’t get is a single prominent female character, although an aggrieved woman named Akira (Rina Sawayama, in her film debut) seems poised to return in a future episode. Lastly, “John Wick: Chapter 4” could have used a judicious trim or two. Then again, if the filmmakers were thinking sensibly, we wouldn’t have this absurdly entertaining franchise in the first place.

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