John Wick’s name might be in all the titles, and his face might be on all the posters. But as any John Wick fan can tell you, the appeal of Johannes Wick was never solely about the leading man. Just as essential to its enduring popularity is the universe it has constructed from four parts: a universe populated by elite assassins and governed by arcane rules, cast in a perpetually moody light just beneath the surface of our everyday reality.
Whether that setting in itself is sufficient to create new (anti)heroes and maintain new leads is the meta-question at the heart of Peacock’s book. The Continental: from the world of John Wick, a non-John Wick sequel set decades before Keanu Reeves ever snapped, “I think I’m back.” And while it seems more like a concept test than a full-blown saga, it is a successful one for now – although one major misstep will be enough to ruin the whole experiment for many.
The Continental: from the world of John Wick
It comes down to
Decent, but because of that excruciating casting choice.
As spinoffs go, The Continental, developed by Greg Coolidge, Kirk Ward, and Shawn Simmons, strives for an approachable balance. It expands on the already established lore surrounding the titular hotel, but finds enough breathing room in the 1970s setting to tell a story that doesn’t require any prior buy-in. It centers on Winston Scott, the friendly hotelier played by Ian McShane on the big screen, but gives Colin Woodell, who plays a younger version, enough substance to make the silver-tongued, gold-hearted character his own. (Woodell does a good job capturing McShane’s mannerisms and gravelly voice, for what it’s worth.) It places him among a selection of largely brand new characters who are worth enjoying on their own, regardless of what ties they have have or not. for those we already know.
Like John Wick’s, Winston’s bloody quest is steeped in a dark past he thought he had left behind; he’s a London con man drawn back to the crime scene in New York because of a deadly dispute between his big brother Frankie (Ben Robson) and the gangster who practically raised them, Cormac (Mel Gibson, more on whom later). Of course, the only way forward for Winston is to fight his way through the underworld ruled by Cormac on his way to conquering the assassin-only hotel that serves as the seat of his power. While The Continental‘The action isn’t at the level of movies’, it’s still above average for TV, with intricate choreography, athletic stunt work and camera work that’s enough to show off both. The splatters of blood and large chunks of tender red meat that tend to follow are just the icing on this gleefully violent cake.
Even though New York may look a lot smaller this time, the ubiquitous smog can only do so much to hide the fact that entire neighborhoods in The Continental don’t look bigger than a studio backlot – it’s one full of style. Outside lies a grimy city full of trash and littered with condemned structures, some of which hold tantalizing secrets of their own. Inside the Continental, old-world opulence alternates with flamboyant strangeness, like a judge (Katie McGrath) who hides the lower half of her face with a crazy porcelain mask, or sadistic twins (Marina Mazepa and Mark Musashi) in matching hairstyles. which fall somewhere between “Lord Farquaad”. Shrek‘ and ‘Claire in the second season of Flea bag.” It’s all very stupid, and it only becomes more fun to watch the less it resembles reality.
But there are a few caveats The Continental‘s victories. The more bearable is the size. The series includes three heavily serialized episodes of around 90 minutes each, leaving the series in a frustrating middle ground between too long a movie and too short a TV season. It takes the entire premiere of the feature to get to the premise of Winston trying to overthrow Cormac’s rule, and it takes most of the feature’s finale to play out the bullet-riddled climax. In between, there is no time to develop the promising ensemble with the care it deserves.
The chemistry is there. I enjoyed the hint of flirtation between Winston and one of his new allies, karate school owner Lou (Jessica Allain), as well as the emerging friendship between Winston and Charon (Ayomide Adegun, who plays a younger, wider-eyed version plays Lance Reddick’s janitor from the films). The bits we get of the characters’ backstories are also intriguing. The series could probably have filled several hours just by explaining the complicated family dynamics between Lou, her brother Miles (Hubert Point-Du Jour) and their future father, or the star-crossed romance between Vietnam vet Frankie and his ex-Khmer Rouge woman Yen. (an amazing Nhang Kate). That may not be an attempt to keep audiences hungry enough to clamor for more episodes. But The Continental is being billed as a “three-part event,” rather than a first season, giving the impression that a network is afraid to commit.
Maybe that has a little to do with it The Continental‘s other, much larger red flag, which comes in the shape of its star with the highest beak. In a vacuum, Gibson could be a perfectly reasonable choice as a household name to play the scenery-chewing villain whose intensity exceeds his actual screen time. But The Continental does not exist in a vacuum. It is unleashed in a reality where Gibson’s history of racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic and abusive behavior is well documented. In that reality, the sight of Gibson hurling vicious insults or unleashing his violent temper is hardly the stuff of an escapist action fantasy. His presence sets a sour note that many viewers will find downright unbearable – which defeats the purpose of casting such a recognizable face in the first place. The Continental is actually quite a start Johannes Wick‘s expansion plans. One just hopes that future episodes will be a little more selective about who they let through those legendary doors.