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John Wick: Chapter 4 channels Hotline Miami and... Frogger?


John Wick: Chapter 4
Image credit: Lionsgate

Retired hitman John Wick has always looked like a video game protagonist. His movies are packed with multi-stage levels, boss fights and more reloading than Call of Duty. But in John Wick: Chapter 4, series star Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stahelski lean on video games even harder, producing action scenes I reckon will be talked about for years to come.


The John Wick movies are often compared to Dennaton Games' top-down shooter Hotline Miami, and with good reason. The super stylish, ultra-violent blast 'em-up sees silent protagonist Jacket blow a hole in countless Russian gang members. Hotline Miami is a fusion of minimalist plot, thumping music and increasingly cool death. It was no surprise, then, to see John Wick mods pop up for the Hotline Miami games when fans realised the similarities and got to work.

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My favourite scene in John Wick: Chapter 4, though, doesn't just look inspired by Hotline Miami, it looks like Hotline Miami. It's a quite stupendous setpiece in which the camera shifts perspective to top-down as Wick goes on his most impressive rampage yet, a single-cut action scene that fixes the camera in place, giving us a bird's-eye view of the carnage within a building as if the ceilings are invisible (that old video game trick).

Wick, using a shotgun / incendiary round combo to devastating effect, mows down bad guys as if they're video game enemies set on easy difficulty. As I craned my neck to take it all in, I felt like I was controlling the remarkably evergreen Reeves himself in some Hotline Miami x John Wick DLC. This is not the CGI fest that was the awful Doom movie's brief foray into first-person, or the mediocre Halo TV show's first-person CGI fest. This is Keanu Reeves doing his expertly-choreographed live-action thing from an angle we haven't seen before on the big screen. Dear reader, this is John Wick at its very best.

As the camera finally slotted back into the standard third-person action perspective, I thought Stahelski, who is down to direct a live-action movie based on Sony's Ghost of Tsushima, or Reeves, who is not so much a player of video games as an admirer of the art form through his work on CD Projekt's Cyberpunk 2077, must be a fan of Hotline Miami and used it as the basis for this scene. Either way, it acts as a wonderful meta nod to the video game that perhaps best suits John Wick.

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And then, like Wick doing a 180 in one of his beloved muscle cars, we get video game reference whiplash. Frogger, for those uninitiated in the ways of the dastardly dodging amphibian, is a 1980s arcade game in which a frog dodges traffic as it crosses a road. That's basically it. Doesn't scream John Wick, does it?

And yet I found myself screaming Frogger at the screen while watching Chapter 4. In another spectacular set piece, Wick fights a horde of enemies on the road that wraps around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, aka, one of the worst roundabouts in Europe. I mean, just look at the thing.

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The hook here is Wick, like the frog from Frogger, must dodge a seemingly never-ending (and, curiously, never-braking) conveyor belt of vehicles as he attempts to progress through the level – a multi-tiered hour-long escapade that involves a recurring mini-boss, plot armour and a spot of co-op. There are more than a few close calls and, as you'd expect, Wick's enemies don't do quite as well as he does. Stahelski resists the temptation to repeat the trick and go top-down for this one, but Wick's triumphant trot along the Arc de Triomphe is just as intense as Frogger can be.

To wear a film reviewer hat for a paragraph, I should point out that John Wick: Chapter 4 is a deeply flawed movie. It is overlong and overstuffed - I suppose, now I think about it, like so many video games. When I say overlong I mean it: strap yourself in for a film that weighs in at nearly three hours. And when I say overstuffed I mean that, too. So much of Chapter 4 need not be there. Keanu Reeves' old Matrix mentor Laurence Fishbourne once again has a lot of fun playing The Bowery King, but the character's plot points are pointless. There are boring side quests that should have been cut (one faction leader will only let John Wick progress to the next level if he returns with an item secured from a boss fight), a few overlong action sequences that desensitise the viewer to the relentlessly impressive combat, and one bizarre cameo from a real-life Berlin bouncer who pops up to escort John Wick from one place to another and is never seen again. The keepers of the John Wick universe use this fourth movie to reveal rules of engagement that, improbably, only occur to the cast at the last, desperate moment. At no point does the first John Wick, at a relatively breezy 100 minutes, lose the viewer's interest, but Chapter 4 does.

And yet, when John Wick: Chapter 4 is good, it's out of this world good. Fans of Naughty Dog's The Last of Us lauded HBO's TV adaptation for, on the whole, remaining faithful to the original text. John Wick: Chapter 4 will never win awards for its acting, its storytelling or its dialogue ("yeah"), but in conversations about the increasingly malleable materials that are video games, TV and film, we should hold up John Wick: Chapter 4 as the most interesting end shape yet.

And I can't wait to play it again.

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