It may not be an overstatement to call Keanu Reeves’ John Wick films a sub-genre by themselves. They are filled with painfully simple plots embellished with gratifying violence, shot gorgeously and edited aesthetically, centred around one of the best action stars in Hollywood who makes the physically demanding character look like a cakewalk. Hence, The Continental: From the World of John Wick had big shoes to fill, but the franchise’s prequel spin-off series fails miserably.
The Continental: From the World of John Wick (English)
Showrunners: Greg Coolidge, Kirk Ward
Cast: Mel Gibson, Colin Woodell, Mishel Prada, Ben Robson, Jessica Allain, Ayomide Adegun
No. of episodes: 3
Runtime: 90 mins each
Storyline: We know that Winston Scott is the proprietor of the New York branch of The Continental chain of hotels, but the road to it was anything but smooth or safe
The life of a younger John Wick – before his wife died, before his pupper’s death led him to come out of retirement, before he became the infamous Baba Yaga, before he was declared excommunicado and before he took on the High Table – sounds like the obvious choice for a John Wick prequel. But those wielding powers more than the High Table, the studio bigwigs, have punched a few more numbers into the time machine to take us back to 1970s New York.
The series introduces us to the backstory of Winston Scott (Colin Woodell), the enigmatic owner of the Continental Hotel in New York in the John Wick films (portrayed by Ian McShane), who rose to become a key underworld figure. We also get introduced to Charon (Ayomide Adegun) – played by the late Lance Reddick in the film – an immigrant working at the Continental and assisting its manager, Cormac (Mel Gibson). One expected the series to cover the rise of these fan-favourite characters to their positions. However, like a gun recoiling, the plot hits back with a series of new characters, including Winston’s elder brother, Frankie (Ben Robson). Throw into the equation an artefact that “predates the Roman Empire” as a MacGuffin and we get an unnecessarily complicated and over-populated plot that leads to a very predictable end.
What doesn’t work in The Continental is the utter lack of star power, barring that of Gibson. Set in the 50s and 70s New York, a period and backdrop that’s sure to remind us of a few cult gangster films, The Continental tries to balance the tropes one would expect from those films while also staying loyal to its franchise, only to fail to cover the prerequisites for both those aspects. Apart from the sheer elegance and panache the John Wick films exude, it’s how the characters’ professionalism and sticking to codes make its world-building quite unique. But The Continental throws it out of the window, like one of its tertiary characters to his death, as things get very, very personal. For a franchise that’s all about killing innumerable lives, this series tries to infuse it with emotions and familial bonds that could rival that of the Fast and the Furious films.
Despite each of its three episodes running close to the runtime of a John Wick film, the series never lingers at its moments and jarringly jumps from one sequence to another. As with any prequel, the fact that we clearly know that certain characters will lead a healthy lifespan and appear in films set to happen decades later, the thrill of wondering if their next fight in this series is their last goes missing. Knowing what will happen is a given. So how we land at that is all that matters, and The Continental doesn’t have the firepower to back that idea up. The series has some lovely action set-pieces but the manner in which they’re captured and presented is a far cry from the finesse and style we’ve experienced with the films. While the upcoming Ana de Armas-starrer Ballerina could offer some respite, The Continental is a misfire, sure to leave us hoping that retirement isn’t a plan John Wick is feeling under his Kevlar jacket-protected heart.
The Continental: From the World of John Wick is currently streaming on Prime Video