The John Wick: Chapter 4 Ending Is the Happiest One Yet
John Wick: Chapter 4 goes in a different direction than previous installments in the franchise, allowing Keanu Reeves’ master assassin to do something bold.
This article contains major John Wick: Chapter 4 spoilers. Be warned!
It’s probably not what you expect when going into a movie with “Chapter 4” in the title. Despite a three-hour running time, and plenty of rumblings in the press about the next John Wick flick possibly being the last one, only a precious few actually anticipated John Wick would die by the movie’s end.
And yet—and yet, dear reader—that certainly appears to be the case when the credits roll in John Wick: Chapter 4. After receiving a seemingly mortal wound from his old friend turned enemy, the blind super assassin, Caine (a magnificent Donnie Yen), Keanu Reeves’ ultimate action hero asks his father figure—who also shot him that one time—Winston (Ian McShane) to “take me home.” Winston agrees, and Jonathan walks quietly, triumphantly, into the rising sun above La Basilique du Sacré-Cœur. He’s a destitute figure in the moment, looking as if he’s been alone all his life, standing apart from the countless dead and dying scattered around him. But this time, John lies down among them, relaxing on the steps he fought so hard to ascend and closing his eyes.
The next time we see Wick, it’s suggested he’s in the ground beneath a tombstone that is identical in almost every respect to that of his late wife Helen’s, except John’s reads “Loving Husband.” Such appears to be the end of John Wick’s story.
Again, it’s not what many of us expected (myself included), but if you’ll indulge us, we’d like to explore why it’s the happiest ending Mr. Wick could have ever hoped for.
Is John Wick Really Dead?
The first thing to acknowledge is that director Chad Stahelski and writers Shay Hatten and Michael Finch subtly leave themselves wiggle room to bring John back. While we see Wick close his eyes after Winston agrees to take him home, Winston does not come over and cry over John’s body—or more in-keeping with McShane’s debonair bon vivant, perhaps just quote a little Shakespeare and suggest John can at last let “a flight of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
Nay, the film cuts to a tombstone that has the epitaph John requested from Winston earlier in the movie. The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) and John’s second dog mourn the passing of a man Winston has clearly told them is gone, with the Bowery King asking Winston if he thinks John is in Heaven or Hell. “Who knows?” is Winston’s cryptic response, on par with all his associates, including John, who seem to disbelieve an afterlife yet want one anyway. He could simply be acknowledging the great mystery of the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.
Then again, perhaps Winston is cryptic because he knows John is in neither place? Maybe he’s living out a peaceful retirement somewhere off the grid.
I think not. Reeves is already confirmed to appear in the spinoff film Ballerina (which is set before the events of John Wick: Chapter 4), so the filmmakers already revealed they are fine tinkering with the timeline. Additionally though, not only would Reeves coming back after the events of 4 be a narratively big pill to swallow, but it’d also undercut the beauty of this film. With Chapter 4, the filmmakers give closure to John by allowing the Baba Yaga to do something no one else in his circle has during the past four movies: give hope, and life, to someone else instead of taking it from them.
Why John Wick Dying Is a Happy Ending
Midway through the fourth film, another friend of Mr. Wick’s, Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanda), tells John that “the High Table can only take life and give death.” This comes to pass for Shimazu since the High Table’s fanatical obsession with punishing John allows them to turn friend against friend, including an acquaintance of both Koji and Wick’s: Caine. While we did not meet the sightless warrior until Chapter 4, it’s revealed that Yen’s character really has lived a mirror life to John. While John got out of this life for a while to be with his wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan), Caine also retired from the way of the gun to raise his daughter Mia (Aimée Kwan).
When the repugnant Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård) pulls Caine out of retirement, he uses the weight of the High Table’s authority to force the blind man’s hand. If he does not hunt down and kill John for their secret society, his daughter’s life will be forfeit. He offers a life for a life: John’s death in exchange for Mia’s. Either way, there will be at least one beloved corpse waiting at the end of Caine’s assignment. That is the world these men live by, and the rules that seal their fates. Caine, like John across four films, struggles with accepting it. But he falls into line.
Unlike Koji, who also has a daughter, Caine feels obligated to submit to the High Table. But then Koji’s daughter Akira (Rina Sawayama) is an adult who is capable of understanding the rules of the game on her own, and the more abstract ones pertaining to honor. She protects herself and can close her own debts, including possibly against Caine after he slays her father while on the warpath for Wick. By contrast, Caine’s daughter lacks the tools or even a seeming awareness of the ledger her father can never close.
John is aware though. It’s born from the same arbitrary and Sisyphean rulebook that made him excommunicado after he avenged the death of his dog. And as John memorably said in the original movie, it wasn’t only the heinous slaughter of a puppy he sought retribution for: “When Helen died, I lost everything. Until that dog arrived on my doorstep, a gift from my wife. In that moment, I received some semblance of hope.”
It is because this criminal culture took that dog from John, stole his hope, that he reentered an underworld that will never let him go again. John Wick: Chapter 4 even begins with the story audiences likely expected: John hunting down the nameless men who sit at the High Table, executing them in bloody vengeance. But as we’re told time and again, you kill one head of the hydra, and another takes its place. John isn’t restoring his hope or anybody else’s by indulging his bloodlust. He’s simply taking life and playing by their rules.
That changes at the end of Chapter 4. Before his final sunrise, Wick sits in a church with Caine. The two have agreed to partake in a duel of pistols like a scene out of Hamilton. Wick fights to free himself; Caine fights in the stead of his employer and enemy, the Marquis. If Caine does not act as the triggerman for the Frenchman, the Marquis will have his daughter executed, robbing Caine of hope by taking another innocent life. Wick acknowledges this, even as he scoffs at the assertion by Caine that the next time they meet will be in the afterlife (something even more bleak since Caine insists he doesn’t believe such a thing).
Yet when the sun finally rises above Paris’ Montmartre district—and after a spectacular series of action sequences where John shoots, stabs, and limps his way to the church on time—Wick is left with a choice. He can murder his friend and take another life…. or give hope to the foe standing before him. Unlike Alexander Hamilton, John doesn’t throw away his shot. He does, however, withhold it. When he and Caine get within 10 paces of each other, he allows Caine to fire first, taking a mortal wound.
In this moment, the arrogance and pride of the Marquis demands that he get the final shot against Wick, a literal coup de grâce. Before Caine relents though, he makes sure the Marquis announces loudly in front of the High Table’s Harbinger (Clancy Brown) that Caine and his daughter are now free from their debts. The Marquis hastily acquiesces. In fact, he’s in such a rush that he does not realize John still has a bullet in his pistol, one that the Baba Yaga then plants in the smug bastard’s forehead.
By intentionally taking a bullet from Caine and for Caine, he has opened a window that John himself could never find—the escape hatch from the High Table’s clutches. While in John’s last moments, the Harbinger promises that the High Table’s account with John is closed, it’s cold comfort for a man bleeding out. Yet it still feels like hope, and freedom. Caine’s daughter is spared from their culture of death and control. This world can only take life, but with his death, John has given life to another.
This is a good ending for John, a happy one. While he adopted another dog after his wife’s puppy was massacred, he never truly regained the hope and peace she wanted for him. That ship sailed the day he avenged the dog. In death, though, he can at last be with Helen, a “Loving Husband,” next to a “Loving Wife.” And his last act was of mercy and hope.
Is Caine truly free though? As the post-credits scene reveals, Akira has not forgotten his debt to her for killing Shimazu. That might be a question for another movie though, and at the very least a transaction between two professionals who know the price of doing this business. At least a child is spared from ever being fully dragged into the unwinnable game.