Everything You Need To Remember To Watch John Wick: Chapter 4

For those who've been following along on John Wick's increasingly labyrinthine journey back into the shadowy assassin underworld, things are much different for Keanu Reeves' coldblooded killer with an affinity for dogs and muscle cars (and guns ... lots of guns) than they were when he first burst upon the scene back in 2014. The more grounded and intentionally vague original movie only ever teased the hidden dealings behind The Continental hotel and its assorted trigger-happy society of patrons, peeking out just on the edge of every frame. Since then, every sequel has dived deeper and deeper into the world-building of the "John Wick" franchise and now, well, audiences have an entire mythology to keep track of as we steamroll toward this week's release of "John Wick: Chapter 4."

While everyone owes it to themselves to either revisit or binge all three previous movies to help prepare for the gun-slinging madness in store in the fourth film (read our full review right here), the realities of our nakedly capitalistic enterprise that we call a work week means that simply isn't an option for many. Who among us has the free time to devote six entire hours to Reeves head-shotting and horse-kicking and eyeball-gouging every rival assassin in sight? Well, I did, but that's because I'm what you might call a weirdo.

For those with actual lives, I made the tremendous sacrifice of subjecting myself to some of the most mind-meltingly awesome action of any modern franchise around so you don't have to. Here's a handy explainer for all the major events in the "John Wick" series that you'll need to keep in mind while watching the fourth film later this week. Be seein' you ... at the theaters, of course.

John Wick (2014)

Rule #1, folks: Never, ever separate a man from his puppy. That goes double when aforementioned puppy symbolizes closure for a grieving widower who just lost the love of his life — the same love who motivated him to accomplish an impossible task to retire from a life of killing and head off into the sunset in married bliss.

We don't know all those details when we first meet John Wick in the original movie, but directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch and writer Derek Kolstad carefully dole out all the information we need to know as we first meet Wick in the immediate aftermath of his beloved wife Helen's (Bridget Moynahan) tragic death. Stuck in a stupor after her funeral, it's only the arrival of Helen's final parting gift that wakes Wick up once again. Puppy-lovers, look away! The adorable beagle Daisy isn't long for this world, unfortunately, as Wick runs afoul of snotty Russian mobster Iosef Tarasov (a perfectly-cast Alfie Allen) who breaks into Wick's house, kills his dog, and steals his car. Upon being informed of his son's activities, the horrified Viggo (the late, great Michael Nyqvist) utters one impeccably-delivered line to convey everything we need to know about Wick's reputation: "Oh."

What follows is one of the most tightly-wound action/thrillers in recent memory and, by my reckoning, hands down the best movie in the franchise. We're steadily introduced to all the major players in this universe, such as Ian McShane's hotel owner character Winston, the concierge Charon played by the recently-passed Lance Reddick, and John Leguizamo's fixer-upper Aurelio. Along the way, Wick carves out a vengeance-driven path of destruction that works as a standalone just as it does a franchise-starter. John Wick came, he saw, and he conquered. We were never the same again.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

You know what? They really should've just left him alone. After the original movie became a word-of-mouth hit, Stahelski returned to helm "Chapter 2" and double down on all the world-building and lore that was mostly only ever hinted at in "John Wick." That meant further reckoning with the consequences of John's impossible task that initially set him free from the underworld, setting up a whole new villain in Riccardo Scamarcio's power-hungry assassin Santino D'Antonio, and introducing the concept of markers, a blood oath binding one assassin to another.

Put all that together and you get the story of the sequel, which features Santino inconveniently arriving on Wick's doorstep to drag him kicking and screaming back into the life he left behind. As the one who helped Wick get out in the first place, Santino returns to compel his old colleague to help him assassinate his own sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini) — a soon-to-be ascendant to the mysterious High Table, the guild of assassins that pretty much runs the whole shebang. After blowing up Wick's house to help persuade him into honoring the code, Wick begrudgingly heads to Rome to get his hands dirty for the most unsavory of causes. Once the deed is done, however, Wick's trouble has only begun. Not only does Santino doublecross him and send his goons (led by Ruby Rose's mute assassin Ares) after him to tie off loose ends, but Gianna's bodyguard Cassian (Common) also comes after him to avenge his fallen ward.

By the end, Wick's despair at getting blood on his hands again leads him to break one of their cardinal rules: He kills Santino on Continental grounds, revoking his membership and making him "excommunicado." With an entire city of assassins on his tail, Wick is truly all alone.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

Picking up directly after the events of the second film, "John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum" follows Wick's attempts to get out of New York City alive and find some way forward to atone for his misdeeds. That doesn't prove so simple, of course, so he calls upon all his underground connections to help patch up his many wounds, book passage to Casablanca, and seek out the secretive Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui), who exists above the whims of the vengeful High Table.

Consequence is the name of the game in this globe-trotting affair, exploring the fallout from John's actions throughout the previous two movies. The arrival of an Adjudicator (played by Asia Kate Dillon) puts the heat on Winston, who allowed his old friend John a one-hour head start before declaring him excommunicado at the end of "Chapter 2," and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) for failing to put a bullet in John's head when he had the chance. The full force of the High Table is sent against Wick for killing Santino in the last film, but thanks to the help of some key allies — notably Halle Berry's Sofia and her two attack dogs — John survives long enough to reach an agreement with the Elder. He must kill Winston for his disloyalty and serve the High Table for the rest of his days.

When John returns to New York, he instead defends The Continental against the High Table. By the end, Winston parlays with the Adjudicator, strategically shoots Wick off the hotel roof (paradoxically saving his life), and remains in good standing. After Wick is rescued by the Bowery King, their mutual grudge against the High Table teases the war to come.

"John Wick: Chapter 4" hits theaters March 24, 2023.