“Get up, Keanu!”
A wailing cry erupted from the audience at the surprise North American premiere of “John Wick: Chapter 4” on Monday at the South by Southwest Film and TV Festival. The marquee outside Austin’s Paramount Theater may have read Baba Yaga ahead of the screening, but the packed, frenzied audience knew what they wanted to see.
Director Chad Stahelski and star Keanu Reeves were there with the film, another action-packed, fist-flying, gun-toting epic set in the world of the High Table. And the man at the center of it all loved him back.
“Thank you for this experience. You guys are freaking awesome,” Reeves told the crowd after the screening.
There was cheering everywhere as the story made its way from New York to Berlin to Paris via the deserts of the Middle East. Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne and Lance Reddick all reprise their roles from the previous films. Newcomers are Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rina Sawayama, Shamier Anderson, Clancy Brown and Scott Adkins.
Yen’s character of Caine, a blind assassin, seemed to be a particular crowd pleaser.
Although the John Wick franchise is known for its over-the-top action, the story is always rooted in an unexpected melancholy. The almost three-hour running time of the new film leaves plenty of room to take a deep breath and think, even amidst the many, many headshots.
When asked about his favorite scene in the film, Reeves chose a quiet character moment towards the end, in which Wick reminisces about his dead wife.
“After eight years in the role … it was really special,” Reeves said. “And also not doing the film for a couple of years and coming back to see Ian McShane and Laurence [Fishburne] and working with this man again” – he said, pointing to Stahelski – “it’s almost like the beginning, like the alpha and the omega and everything in between.”
Stahleski added, “For me, it was the first day Keanu came on set. He was back in his suit and it was the first time we had been together in three years. So it was very special.”
Another question about a specific effect in a spectacular sequence shot that maps the geography of a house overhead was simply, “How can it not be deadly?”
Stahleski said, “We have a very good stunt team and a very good visual effects team.”
Reeves added: “And months of planning. And exercise.”
Stahelski noted, “A lot of training. More than shooting.”
One question had to do with the momentum behind the ending – fear not, no spoilers here. Reeves said that during the development process they asked themselves, “What was the why?”
“It can’t just be like, ‘Let’s do another one,'” Reeves added. “There must be a reason. He must have a why.”
Many of the questions from the audience simply validated Reeve’s longevity as a star and the deep connection he has with his fans.
Other projects within the John Wick universe are in production, including a hotel-themed TV series The Continental and a film called Ballerina starring Ana de Armas.
When asked if John Wick would appear on the show, Stahelski said maybe, while Reeves said no. Reeves added that he will be making a cameo in Ballerina.
One question for Reeves was simply, “Are you aging?”
“Yeah, man, I’m aging,” Reeves said. “It happens man.”