For die-hard “John Wick” fans yearning for more of the cinematic universe’s gritty allure, “The Continental: From the World of John Wick” offers an enticing watch. This three-part prequel series, available on Peacock, beckons those eagerly awaiting the potential fifth Wick movie and the Ana de Armas-led spin-off, “Ballerina,” slated for the next year. However, it’s essential to leave behind certain expectations: this series lacks Keanu Reeves’ presence and the expansive genre ambitions that characterize the film franchise that spawned it.
Co-created by Greg Coolidge, Shawn Simmons, and Kirk Ward, “The Continental” undertakes the challenging task of following “John Wick: Chapter 4” by delving deep into its plot, infusing it with intricate family dynamics and loyalties, and introducing a multitude of characters who collectively lack the intrigue of Reeves’ iconic character. These feature-length episodes primarily cater to fans of Winston Scott (played by Ian McShane), the suave hotel owner and mentor to John Wick. The narrative unfolds decades ago, shedding light on Winston’s past.
While the notion of exploring motivations beyond “revenge for a dead dog” is commendable, “The Continental” appears to overcomplicate matters. It centers on the reunion of two brothers, the refined Winston (excellently portrayed by Colin Woodell, capturing McShane’s vocal cadence) and his hotheaded veteran sibling Frankie (played by Ben Robson). Their tumultuous relationship with their surrogate father figure, Cormac (depicted by Mel Gibson, in moments of hammy rage that border on amusing), is at the heart of the story. Cormac is the mastermind behind the New York-based assassin haven known as the Continental, with the stoic Charon (played by Ayomide Adegun, channeling Lance Reddick) as his trusted aide.
The series takes a dramatic turn when Frankie, in a daring heist on Night One, steals Cormac’s prized coin-press, marking himself as a prime target. After an initial retaliatory strike by Cormac, Winston resolves to take control of the Continental from him. To achieve this near-suicidal mission, Winston enlists the help of Frankie’s war comrades, Miles (Hubert Point-Du Jour) and Lemmy (Adam Shapiro), who operate a dojo and firearm cache in Chinatown. Miles’ sister, Lou (Jessica Allain), resistant to bullets, joins their ranks. They also receive invaluable support from Yen (Nhung Kate), Frankie’s wife, whom he met during the Vietnam War, moments after her concealed bomb failed to detonate. Meanwhile, a subplot involving a cop named KD (Mishel Prada) unfolds as she surveils the Continental from afar, unaware of the secrets lurking within the posh hotel.
Directed by Albert Hughes and Charlotte Brandstrom, the mini-series captures the essence of the 1970s crime thriller genre, recreating a distinct moment in history. “The Continental” unfolds in a New York City marred by a garbage strike in 1981, where the scars of Vietnam are still fresh. The central characters are mostly war-scarred veterans and immigrants seeking refuge in this tumultuous world. Their experiences on the battlefield inform their lethal skills and unwavering loyalty to each other. However, the juxtaposition of gritty reality with the franchise’s fantastical violence, complete with eccentric twin assassins sporting bowl cuts, feels somewhat forced. This iteration is a more “serious” take on the “John Wick” universe, but it doesn’t necessarily make it more exhilarating.
In conclusion, “The Continental” provides a different perspective on the “John Wick” universe, offering a glimpse into Winston Scott’s past and the intricate web of relationships that defined him. While it may not match the action-packed intensity of the films or the enigmatic presence of Keanu Reeves, it caters to those who crave a deeper dive into this shadowy world of assassins and their complex histories.