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At three hours, John Wick: Chapter 4 is the latest movie hindered by its own length

Minor spoilers for John Wick: Chapter 4 under.

Anecdotally speaking, film runtimes seem to have expanded exponentially over the last half decade or so – spurring thought-provoking and film Twitter threads galore, mourning the death of the bare ninety stabbed in the back by a Brutus of celluloid excess became. In modern times, just look at the ever-dominant superhero genre, whose movies rarely last less than two hours, with recent iterations such as eternal, Spider-Man: No Way Home And Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Pressing or exceeding the two hour thirty mark; As for prestige awards, we just had a best picture lineup at the Oscars with only two nominees coming in under two hours. The longest, Avatar: The Way of Waterclocked in at a staggering three hours-eleven.

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The most recent example of this resurgent Hollywood penchant for length is John Wick: Chapter 4, itself for just under three hours at 169 minutes. Compare that to the first John Wick, which came out nine years ago and ran just over an hour to forty – there is no more perfect running time. Indeed, as the series best known for its frenetic pace, dazzling choreography, and enough action film homage to make Tarantino blush, the wick Franchise isn’t the first thing you’d think of that warrants the epic treatment. and how Chapter 4 proves, such an intuition would be correct. Where the first three episodes were snappy shoot ’em ups, endlessly gripping and technically best in class – albeit John Wick 3 pushed it with its two hours and change – Chapter 4 is the first in the franchise in dire need of a lavish edit.

That’s not to say Keanu isn’t kicking ass, nor is number four missing wick‘s now signature gun-and-sword ballet. Endless faceless henchmen are dispatched by John and company with the choreographic ingenuity that has made the series such a real box office hit; it’s a gluttonous feast for neo-noir dogs like post-drive Nicholas Winding Refn (think: Only God forgives) was thrown into a blender kill Bill and the pantheon of martial arts films that inspired him. Bill Skarsgård does what can only be described as The Most as this installment’s newest cartoon villain, portraying an imaginative French aristocrat with the delightfully goofy European accent to be heard since Rob Pattinson’s similarly melodramatic mileage The kingis Dauphin.

With all this stuff projected into our eyeballs with relentless blinding, like a video game machine gun with unlimited ammo, you’d think you wouldn’t get bored – but here’s proof that there’s such a thing as too much. First, there’s the world-building drudgery obligatory for a franchise with stated ambitions for cinema and television spin-offs (a prequel series tackling the origins of the John Wick Universe, The Continental, set to hit TV screens this year; Principal photography for the one led by Ana de Armas ballerina reportedly started last November). It’s unnecessary baggage in a film world that demands little lore, but rather stunts and set pieces, things that fans might care about but Joe Public doesn’t. Worse, there’s so much rhythmic run-and-gunnery that it gets boring; from the second hour you’re caught in an endless rollercoaster, you’ve only gotten to know the loops in the meantime.

It’s annoyingly repetitive, bordering on tiring – until a brilliant shotwork, spearheaded by a final act sequence following a bird’s-eye view of Wick on a killing spree through a burning apartment, brings you back for the finale. But it didn’t have to be this way: Here’s a beautifully crafted two-hour feature stymied by creative excesses hitherto uncharacteristic of director Chad Stahelski’s work. Had it been as relatively economical as the first three – and, as a reminder, Chapter 3 was already on thin ice – you’d walk in, get your explosive thrills, and exit the auditorium getting eloquent about that part on the stairs without looking at your watch.

The theatrical experience has been at something of an existential crossroads since the advent of streaming, compounded by a pandemic that threatened to shut down the screen economy entirely, though tempered by 2022’s box office successes (thanks, Tom Cruise). Running down the endless conveyor belt of lengthy films currently hitting screens, one studio strategy to get gamers back into the ticketed seats seems to be to offer more cents per minute. But the age-old phallic adage is true: It’s not the size of the wave. And that is the lesson from John Wick: Chapter 4 – Less is more and more is all too often less.

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