Part of the excitement of a new cinematic format is the discovery of its potential, and these are often dependent on the creativity and innovation of their use. With 4DX, part of the expansion of limits comes with the choice of films to pair the technology with. Before attending a screening of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum in 4DX, it occurred to me that four out of the four films I had previously seen in the format had belonged to the superhero genre. This is certainly due in part to the tendency to utilize the format with high-profile Blockbusters, and the industry’s simultaneous obsession with the ever-profitable comic-book-adaptation franchises. Whatever the reason, I had already spent a great deal of time in the moving seats of 4DX theaters as they simulated flight, underwater exploration, and spider-web swinging. In John Wick 3, I found an entirely different experience; one that was much more grounded, even to the point that the practice of being thrown to the ground was repeatedly simulated.
While the film itself was not my favorite of the franchise, I will focus instead on the review of the 4DX elements alone. It is important to note that not all 4DX theaters offer the same experience. Although each theater is provided with the same coding for the movement and effects, created by technicians to match up with the action onscreen, there may be variation from theater to theater in terms of what effects are available. For instance, while the CGV Cinemas I have visited have seats that move and vibrate, they do not have the other interactive features, such as the leg ticklers and any moment on the upper back, which are available in the Regal 4DX theaters.
For the full effect of 4DX, I would recommend Regal, both for the inclusion of as many elements as are available and the overall design of the seats (the movement is isolated to groups of four seats, rather than entire rows). With that being said, it is also dependent on individual theater maintenance, even within preferred chains. I have been to two public 4DX screenings where the water function did not work in my seat (including John Wick 3), and the snow effect was also lackluster in one screening due to a shortage of the bubbles which create the effect. As with every film-going experience these days, audiences must simply be aware that they are being provided what they paid for, and rewarding properly managed theaters with regular patronage.
Effect 1: Motion and Vibration
Easily the most recognizable element of the 4DX experience is the seats that move and even vibrate to simulate the experiences onscreen. The vibration comes into play anytime we enter a vehicle, often paired with the movement of the seats. There is some time spent in vehicles (or on them, in the case of the motorcycle chase scene), but a majority of the movement in this particular film is dedicated to the fight scenes. This means being tossed around by the seats as John Wick is being tossed around by his opponents. It is far less smooth of an experience as some of the other films I have seen in the format, but it adds to the intensity of narrative. It also often helps us to align more with our protagonist than we might in a more passive viewing experience.
Effect 2: Back Attacks
Helping with that direct identification is the effect that actually hits the back of the audience. It is more of a poke than a hit, protruding somewhere hidden beneath the padding of the chair’s back, effective not for the pain it causes but rather the shock from an unexpected assault. There are times that this is used to simulate a blow, but more often John Wick 3 uses it to simulate the impact of the protagonist being thrown to the ground. This would have been even more effective if paired with a heavy pitch of the seats, but is still one of the better uses of the format in the hand-to-hand combat sequences that dominate the narrative.
Effect 3: Air Blasts
As one might expect in a John Wick film, the air blasts located in the headrest of the seats are used throughout the film to simulate bullets whizzing by your head. This was not nearly as exciting as I imagined it, but that may be in part due to the excessiveness that it was used. The novelty simply wore off over the two-hour (and change) film. There is also an air burst that comes from the front, but I will talk about that in the next section. It is also important to note that this is another feature missing from some of the theater chains offering 4DX.
Effect 4: Leg Ticklers
The leg ticklers are a couple of moving tubes that hit your legs to simulate movement. I can imagine they would be perfect for a horror movie involving creatures moving around underfoot, but they have the unique and singular purpose of simulating falling broken glass during the fight sequences of John Wick 3. Our protagonist is often being thrown into breakable objects, and the leg ticklers make it feel as though that debris is hitting our legs as it falls to the ground.
Effect 5: Water Elements
Another perk of the Regal 4DX is the option to turn off the water features, for those who prefer not getting even marginally wet. It did not matter for my John Wick 3 experience, as there was either a clog or water had run out in my seat (and the seat next to mine). I was able to see the raindrops falling on others during the rain sequences, but felt none myself. I was also told that the air blasts coming from the front and hitting me in the face were meant to include water, simulating blood splatter hitting your face. I simply had air blasts hit me, which were not nearly as effective in the immersive experience.
Element 6: Floodlights
Used to simulate lightning and explosions, there are large floodlights that flash on the sides near the front of the screen. There are rainstorms that use this effect in John Wick (which would have been even better if paired with water effects), but even more effective than the lightning is the explosions. My only complaint with the explosions was the missing smoke that is often paired with the flash of light to simulate an in-theater explosion. I can’t be certain of whether it was missing from the initial coding or was simply another instance of a poorly maintained theater, but it was missed either way.
Element 7: Wind
The wind elements are used sparingly in John Wick 3, probably because much of the action takes place in the form of hand-to-hand combat. But there are a few great sequences that use it subtlety, such as to imply movement during the motorcycle chase scene.
Element 8: Scent
I’ve long had problems with this effect. Honestly, I’m just never sure if I’ve smelled what I am supposed to smell. When I saw Avengers: Endgame in 4DX, I randomly smelled something sweet during a scene outside. In John Wick 3, I think I smelled something once or twice, but it is difficult when everyone around you is eating popcorn, nachos, and hot dogs.
While not as flashy as some of the comic book films which simulate superhuman abilities, 4DX is the most immersive way to see the John Wick 3, for better or worse. Some may find the experience of being tied to a character as he is beaten and beats others off-putting and grueling. Certainly, there are more relaxing ways to watch this film, but few as enjoyable. The 4DX elements are good, if only lacking enough variety to keep the format exciting for the lengthy run-time. I, for one, will be seeking out more non-superhero films in 4DX.