[Editor’s note: Spoilers ahead for “John Wick: Chapter 4.”]
John Wick has been through a lot in nine years. The sullen hitman, played by Keanu Reeves, tried to retire from the profession back in the first movie and mourn his late wife, only to get dragged back into action in search of vengeance for his dead dog. From there, John just can’t catch a break. He’s forced back into service for the sequel, which ends with a contract on his head by the High Table, and decides to take the whole hitman enterprise down by the end of chapter three.
In the fourth entry, out this weekend, the renegade assassin closes in on his target, setting his sights on High Table boss Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård) even as the marquis hopes to take John down first.
Per usual with the “John Wick” movies, the stakes of the story are mostly just a giant MacGuffin for John to shoot, punch, and kick his way through highly stylized environments, surviving many impossible ordeals along the way. This time, John somehow manages to make through some pretty gnarly falls, smashing through glass and, in one of the movie’s most amusing slapstick moments, tumbling down seemingly infinite flights of stairs, yet he still manages to get up and keeping fighting his way forward.
Until the ending, that is, where the future of the entire series suddenly becomes harder to figure out.
The final act of “John Wick: Chapter 4” finds John agreeing to a sunrise duel with the Marquis, who nominates blind killer Caine (Donnie Yen) to take his place. After Caine hits John with a bullet that knocks him down and John appears to miss his target, the Marquis takes the gun from Caine in an effort to deliver the mortal shot. But it turns out that John didn’t actually fire his gun, and uses his final bullet to kill the Marquis, effectively destroying the High Table and releasing John from the bounty on his head.
A bloody John staggers to the staircase, sits down, and remembers his late wife before falling over. In the final scene, John’s pals Winston (Ian McShane) and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) are in a cemetery regarding John’s tombstone and its place next to his wife. They walk away, the camera drifts into the trees, and we fade to black.
So that’s it, right? John’s dead, finally at peace with the love of his life? Not so fast.
“It’s an ambiguous ending,” producer Basil Iwanyck, who produced all four “John Wick” movies, told IndieWire. “I’ll put it that way. We don’t have this answer.”
Iwanyck cited another interview where director Chad Stahelski said that if the new movie were a hit, he would sit down with Reeves in Japan over a glass of whiskey and discuss how they might follow up the story with another chapter. However that hypothetical discussion plays out, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which John essentially faked his death to start his life anew once more.
“There are two characters, really,” Iwanyck said. “There’s John Wick, and John, the civilian. The question for all of us is, OK, if the audience embraces the story and the box office works, is there another story to be told? I don’t know. But I don’t think we’ve boxed ourselves into any corner, whether he’s dead or alive, at the end of this movie.”
With the High Table in ruins, one might imagine John enlisted to oversee the creation of a new network for contract killers. There are also some other loose ends to sort out, as a brief mid-credits sequence shows. While John remains friendly with Caine, the martial arts killer did murder Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada), the manager of the Osaka Continental Hotel, after he tries to protect John. That leaves Koji’s daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama) out for revenge. In the mid-credits scene, Akira pulls out a blade and approaches Caine in a crowd as he walks toward his own daughter with flowers. It’s unclear how the moment plays out from there. Does Akira, who blames John for her father’s death, figure out that he fakes his death and track him down as well?
Wherever this all leads, Iwanyck said the team will need to take a breather before they get it sorted. “After every ‘John Wick’ movie, everyone is so wiped out,” he said. “These are hard movies to pull off, as you can imagine, and Keanu’s always like, ‘Never again.’ We’ve done it all. We’re all friends working together almost nonstop, and we’ve gone through so many things.”
That’s another reason to suspect Reeves will find a way to return for a fifth installment. “Just on a personal level, we can’t break up the band yet,” Iwanyck said. “If the movie does really well, and people love it, and if there’s a germ of idea, we’ll entertain it. We’re so far away from that. I’m not saying there will be a sequel by any stretch, but if there is a world where we can find a story, we’ll explore that.”
Regardless of what happens there, the “John Wick” universe has a lot in store for future. The Ana de Armas spin-off “Ballerina” is currently in post-production, though a release date has yet to be announced, and Reeves has a supporting role. There’s the prequel TV series “The Continental,” which moved from Starz to Peacock last year and is expected to premiere on the streaming service later this year. The series, directed by Albert Hughes (“The Book of Eli”) takes place in 1970s New York.
“On a franchise like ‘John Wick’ that’s never slowed down to explain who people are, it’s not only entertaining but really satisfying if you’re a fan,” Iwanyck said. “We don’t want to sell out by any stretch.”
“John Wick: Chapter 4” is now in theaters.