From the moment we meet Donnie Yen’s Caine in John Wick: Chapter 4—alone in France, with a photo of his daughter, whom he cannot see, due to both self-induced blindness and some vague prohibitory rules—we know he won’t be the typical John Wick baddie. Caine’s motives are, of course, selfish, as are all hitmen’s in the Wick-verse, though they are immediately less selfish than Wick’s remaining drive, which appears to be slaughter in the name of leaving the game. Yen’s Caine, from the beginning of the film, is set up as a kind of hero. Or at least, after orphaning another daughter, the movie’s anti-hero.
The fourth installment of the breakout action franchise signals a showdown between Caine and John Wick (Keanu Reeves) early into the film’s action—teasing not only a fight between Reeves and international martial arts legend Yen, but presenting a dilemma for viewers used to aligning their sympathies with Wick. For the first time, we’re made to root against him.
The sympathy switch helps correct some of the failings of the franchise, which, while featuring some of the best choreographed action in modern filmmaking history, veered into some stale storytelling with its middle installments—comic book villains, fights without real danger or stakes, stretched character motives, etc.
John Wick: Chapter 4 corrects all of these limitations by expanding the cast, showcasing fights between these other actors (themselves with varying motives and fighting styles), and so stretching viewer sympathy to include some non-John Wick figures. By the time Wick and Caine reach the top of steps at Sacré-Cœur, it’s unclear if we should actually be rooting for Wick, given what’s at stake for Caine (his daughter’s life)—and this dilemma is perhaps what the franchise had been missing leading up to these fights.
And … holy shit. That final fight. After several different cinematic action styles—including samurai-inspired duels, martial arts inspired combat, and John-Woo-like gunplay—the film concludes with a western-style standoff. Caine and Wick count off paces and then draw on one another in the highest stakes battle yet.
In the end, Caine lives and John Wick …. dies?
Wait, is John Wick dead?
Narratively, it makes sense. Wick’s unwillingness to kill Caine is anticipated by his previous hesitation during his fight with Tracker (Shamier Anderson), where he chooses to save Tracker’s dog instead of killing him—a kind of full circle moment for Wick. (Wick’s decision also insights a bit of company skepticism in the other assassin. Perhaps future installments of the franchise will see the hitmen unite to take down the high table and their increasingly onerous rules.)
Wick’s death scene is also the first time we actually see Helen since the first film (at least in something other than an on-screen photo). Wick’s reverie seems to signal the end of his character’s demon-battling. It’s a moment of interiority that we might expect only at the very end of his arc.
We also see Wick die. We see his tombstone. We see his dog looking at the tombstone.
So … it’s a strong bet. Right?
But is John Wick dead dead?
Reeves will appear again as John Wick for the spinoff film Ballerina (Ana de Armas will play the main protagonist, Rooney.) Reeves explained his part in an interview, saying, “I felt that there was a cool handoff of stewardship, and it was fun to put the suit on again, however briefly. There’s a reason for [John] to be in Ballerina; it’s very organic.”
It’s unclear where in the John Wick timeline Ballerina takes place.
Then there’s The Continental, the upcoming spinoff miniseries starring Mel Gibson. This story, however, will be a prequel to the John Wick franchise. So even if we see John Wick, his appearance means nothing.
As of now, it’s also unclear if John Wick 5 is happening—with or without Wick. While director Chad Stahelski has previously said it’s the studio’s intention to continue the hit franchise, he has not yet confirmed a fifth installment; Reeves has said that John Wick 5 depends on audience reactions to Chapter 4. (Audience reactions seem pretty positive so far.)
It wouldn’t be impossible for Reeves to return. (We never see his body buried or cremated.) It would likely depend on Reeves’ willingness to shoot another film. Given the strenuousness of filming, it makes sense how Chapter 4 may be Reeves’ character swan song.
But, of course, it’s all up in the air.
So yeah, we’re thinking he could be back.
Joshua St Clair is an Assistant Editor at Men’s Health Magazine.