Extremely spoilery on the film’s ending, what it means and that end-credits scene. You have been warned, like a minor league hitman in the franchise wanting to make a name for himself. (My review is here.)
“All that happens in John Wick is stabby stabby stabby stab someone with a pencil then stabby stabby stabby again then he goes,” said my 11 year old a couple of days ago. I don’t know how he knows this — cultural osmosis? Illegal movie torrenting? Heaven forbid, reading this website? But it sums up what the underworld’s no.1 assassin has come to represent in movie culture, with an addendum about the dead dog, dead wife and amputated finger.
It risks becoming a joke, so while I will absolutely miss John Wick / the bogeyman / the man sent to kill the bogeyman / Baba Yaga / scourge of the High Table / orphaned Belorussian boy Jardani / loving husband of the late Helen, I think it’s right that <sombre Russian music plays> John Wick is dead.
And never has rest in peace been such a goal as for Wick. Helen, in the note she left him along with Daisy the puppy in the first film, said she had found her peace and now he must find his.
This is a death foretold from the start of John Wick 4, when the Bowery King first lights a wall of fire around John at his punchbag, a sign of the fury to come, then blows on the match, the light snuffed out. Later he laughingly catches up with Wick in Paris, asking him how his “grand farewell tour” is going.
Few are immune. New York Continental concierge Charon, a stalwart character who has appeared in all the films, is shot dead on the Marquis’s orders, as Winston sees his world taken from him.
It’s a sign that everything is up for grabs, even if by the end, order is restored. Winston, that consummate survivor, has his fiefdom returned to him, and the High Table sails on, happy to free Caine and his daughter from threat of death, happy even to release John from his obligations, happy to reimburse Winston, because their world is based on rules and those rules were obeyed.
The film’s climax has Wick and Caine both making it to the top of the Sacré-Coeur steps, Caine helping Wick fight off hitmen sent to stop him even making it to the rendezvous. Their dual is set at sunrise, with pistols; the High Table emissary Harbinger gives them their weapons and they assume their positions, each 30 paces away. The first bullets hit but don’t kill and on they go, until a shot from Caine leaves Wick slumped on the ground. The cowardly Marquis decides he will take the last, easy shot, taking Caine’s weapon from him and walking over to kill Wick. But Wick has deliberately not fired at Caine on their last shot so he has a bullet left for the Marquis, which he now uses to shoot the Marquis dead.
The Harbinger officially frees Caine and his daughter, and Wick, and agrees to Winston’s terms regarding reinstatement and repair of the Continental New York, then he and his henchmen pack up and leave. John gets up, knowing he is dying, and asks Winston to take him home. He staggers to the steps of the Sacré-Coeur, bleeding from his gunshot wounds. Sitting down, he dreams of his late wife and says her name before dying.
Wick is taken home to New York, to his wife. Winston and the Bowery King stand at John’s grave. The Bowery King asks Winston if John is in heaven or hell. “Who knows,” responds Winston, and they walk away. (Earlier in the film, discussing headstone epitaphs, John has told Winston and the Bowery King he wants his to say Loving husband. It does, and he is buried next to Helen, whose headstone is engraved with Loving wife.)
I’ll admit John’s death was a shock at first (apart from the trailers I’ve studiously avoided chatter around this film and didn’t even know it was going to be the last in the franchise). Not only has Wick survived worse, but in this film he has looked surprisingly perky and up for a fight, not dragging himself around, weighed down by injuries and grief like before.
Maybe it was the knowledge that his journey was nearing its end, that there could only be one outcome; and at least it meant he’d soon be with Helen again. (Caine believes death is the end, that’s why he does everything to stay alive and keep his daughter alive; John, with no family but his dead wife, and from a religious world, needed to die to reunite with her.)
In retrospect for Wick it was essential to kill him off, for now at least, before the films and their hero become simply too absurd. Where else can he go: punch out King Charles III, newly discovered secret head of the High Table, on the international space station?
Still, Wick — a man who is as much myth and metaphor — will always be there despite the High Table’s best efforts (the Marquis at one point comments that he has to destroy the idea of John Wick as much as the physical man). He should be a warning but he has become an icon, driving novice assassins to greater kills as they fall deeper into that world: less peacemaker, more pacemaker.
That’s assuming of course that he is literally dead. After all, John Wick is a pseudonym. Maybe he is still alive, having found his peace with a new name (or his old one: Jardani). Winston could have staged the funeral himself, without telling the Bowery King.
Whatever, I hope future films will go back to the beginning, to the lonely boy plucked from the streets for a life of crime; hopefully right up to the fateful day he took out a whole layer of crime boss Viggo Tarasov’s New York competitors, the “impossible task”, and yes “killed three men in a bar with a pencil. A fucking pencil.”
The end credits scene: it’s brief and at the very end so you’ll be waiting a while. Caine, carrying a bunch of blue flowers, is walking towards his daughter, a talented violinist who is busking in the crowds. Akira approaches him, her face hidden in a hoodie, a knife in her hand. This harks back to her comment to John, after her father died at Caine’s hands, that if John doesn’t kill Caine, she will.