SPOILERS for John Wick 3
John Wick: Chapter 4 is on the way, and it could benefit from pumping the breaks on expanding the property's rich mythology. The main draw of these films is and always will be the innovative gun-fu set pieces that have seen the Baba Yaga kill more people than Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers combined, but there's so much more to them. From the very beginning, the movies are renowned for their comprehensive world-building that's almost comic book like in its execution. Arguably, the lore of John Wick is just as popular as the action; there's a reason the TV spinoff is called The Continental.
In each of the two released sequels, the world of John Wick has become more expansive, introducing the concept of markers, detailing more of John's backstory, and giving a character called The Adjudicator a key role in this summer's John Wick 3. While all of these elements are fascinating and help richen the universe, some have seen that as a slight detriment. While Parabellum received positive reviews (with critics praising the action sequences and Keanu Reeves' performance), a common criticism was that it got dragged down in its efforts to deepen the mythology, losing sight of what made John Wick so visceral in the first place.
Looking back at the original film, its simplicity is part of what made it a breath of fresh air. It was a prime example of a movie that "knew what it was," running a taut 101 minutes while telling an effective and emotionally relatable story. Allusions to John's past as the vicious Baba Yaga and his stay at the Continental were more about establishing context than the focus of the film (which was always "get revenge on puppy murderers"), never getting in the way of what was really important. Of course, what started innocently enough has grown exponentially. It's now at a point where every other person in New York (including some of the homeless) are members of the secret assassin society and there are Continentals all over the globe. This simultaneously enhances the franchise's comic book inspirations while running the risk of becoming increasingly ridiculous.
It should be noted that a majority of the John Wick world-building still works within the context of the films, but the creative team arguably doesn't have anywhere else to go from here. Once audiences have met the head of the High Table in the Casablanca desert, what else can be done? Instead of trying to push the envelope further in John Wick 4 and go bigger, the approach on the next film (due in theaters 2021) should try to take the series back to its roots as an economical, throwback action flick that gets straight to the point and never lets up until the credits roll. The ideal version of this would be the first 30 minutes of John Wick 3 as a feature film - essentially Mad Max: Fury Road meets John Wick. Die-hard fans want to see more from the Baba Yaga, but even some of them might have had their fill with the mythology.
To be fair, at the outset it looks like Chapter 4 is going to be that "back to basics" film. After Winston's betrayal, John finds himself aligning with the Bowery King to wage war against the New York Continental and the High Table. The story of John Wick 3 dealt with John seeking for forgiveness in an attempt to reverse his excommunicado standing. But now, it seems all there is for him to do is take lots of guns and shoot a bunch of people. At this stage in the franchise, there's no need to deepen the lore and run the risk of stretching viewers' suspension of disbelief. The John Wick world-building is creative, great, and helps it stand apart from its peers. But for John Wick 4, it should be all about non-stop action.
- John Wick: Chapter 4 (2021) release date: May 21, 2021