John Wick Spinoff The Continental Badly Misses the MarkPhoto courtesy of Peacock TV Reviews Peacock
Over the last decade, the John Wick movies have been a welcome detour from a Hollywood landscape rightfully derided for forcing an overworked and underpaid VFX industry to churn out muddy action sequences. Propelled by intricate choreography where gunfights are imbued with the grace and brutality of martial arts, each subsequent entry in this series has only improved at delivering outrageous set pieces, with sustained camera work that captures every grisly detail of the carnage. Through channeling the freneticism that has defined many of the best action films from around the globe, these flicks quickly usurped the old guard of stale American blockbusters (at least in the hearts of many genre aficionados).
Along the way, they also introduced increasingly complicated world-building to create an over-the-top universe where, inexplicably, nearly everyone is an assassin. It’s goofy, but also the kind of weird backdrop that makes it an obvious candidate for further exploration, and The Continental: From the World of John Wick attempts to further flesh out this space. It follows Winston, the owner of a hitman hotel in the films, as he fights for a place in ’70s New York. Unfortunately, compared to the killer instinct of the John Wick films, this TV series is a botched hit. It doesn’t build on what came before, as it fails to flesh out this setting or rival its predecessor’s fight sequences. Perhaps most glaringly, it also doesn’t work as a television show, defined by meandering pacing, uninteresting characters, and the unshakable feeling that it’s another unnecessary prequel.
Winston Scott (Colin Woodell) is an up-and-coming real estate mogul (code for conman) who receives news that his estranged brother Frankie (Ben Robson) is in trouble. He stole a precious relic from the kingpin of the NYC Continental Hotel, Cormac (Mel Gibson), a man willing to wipe out anyone in his way, including his former proteges, the Scott siblings. In response, Winston is tasked with the impossible—he has to assemble a team that can storm this hotel full of professional killers and take out the owner.
If you’re like me, you may find this premise and its focus on Winston a bit odd. He’s an important side character, but considering the Rolodex of wacky folks we’ve met throughout the film tetrarchy, he’s pretty low on the list of those I want to get to know better. I’m a little unclear on who’s hankering to spend additional time with this cravat-wearing manipulator, and disappointingly, the show fails to make a compelling argument to the contrary. This tale feels perfunctory, and that starts with its inability to meaningfully explore its setting.
While the movies playfully allude to a larger world of wetwork, The Continental doesn’t really provide much new information about this expansive criminal network or how it established its power, which seems like it would be the whole point of focusing a story on this hotel. Instead, it remains cagey, afraid to divulge more than what was previously doled out in mercifully concise tidbits on the silver screen. There are none of the delightfully jarring reveals where a new piece of nonsensical information comes colliding into view, and as a result, the material comes across unsure if it wants to lean into the comic book logic of its predecessor or something less fantastical.
All of this would be forgivable if it retained the most essential component that made the movies tick: blistering set pieces that are creative, technical, and often unexpectedly hilarious. Many elements of this show left me perplexed, but one of the most glaring is its distribution of action sequences. Across its three episodes, which each come in at egregiously-overlong 90-minute runtimes, the first two only feature a smattering of fisticuffs. A scene very early on is promising—a botched heist channels the headshot palooza of the first film as a lone assailant cuts his way through an army of thugs to make a getaway. But after this, it goes hours with a sparse number of brawls until providing an extended showdown with the opposite problem—it goes on so long it becomes tedious.
Although some may argue it’s unreasonable to expect the same density of precisely-staged chases and all-out scrums in this less expensive television program, the budget for each of these episodes (reportedly $20 million a pop) falls roughly in line with the $20-30 million budget of the first movie. There are traces of the same kind of ingenuity that previously left a mark, such as a vengeful ambush in a movie theater or a martial arts death match, and these stretches are presented via clear editing that highlights the choreography instead of obfuscating it. But as a whole, these moments are neither frequent nor flashy enough to save things from its more common mode of dull drama.
The previously mentioned pitfalls almost all stem from the show not adhering to existing expectations connected to the John Wick films, but most importantly, the series also fails to deliver a compelling alternative. Like a lot of modern TV, it feels trapped between the big and small screen, taking advantage of neither format due to its woefully paced feature-film-length episodes where not very much happens.
A great deal of this wasted time comes from its cast’s unsatisfying character arcs, which mostly range from circuitous to boring. For instance, there’s Lou (Jessica Allain), a martial artist still processing her father’s death who maintains a non-lethal fighting style (a big deal in this high-body count world). However, she eventually learns something about her family’s past that causes her to question this outlook, resulting in an eventual turn that had me scratching my head about what it’s trying to say about, well, anything really. Similarly, her brother Miles (Hubert Point-Du Jour) laments over the horrors he witnessed in the Vietnam War, but these treatises against violence fall entirely flat in a world where human lives are as disposable as the background NPCs in a gory videogame. There’s nothing wrong with these performances, and Jessica Allain is particularly excellent in the scenes where Lou cracks some skulls, but they can only do much with this weak material.
Comparatively speaking, Winston gets the best moments as he broods over the guilt of a traumatic past that causes friction with his brother and a past victim, but these only make up a fraction of his screen time compared to his flat revenge arc. Worst of all is the underwhelming big bad Cormac, played by Mel Gibson with a thoroughly unconvincing New York accent. He’s a loud, annoying, and shallow antagonist laden with clunker lines, and the painfully cartoonish performance by Gibson certainly doesn’t help.
If there’s one upside, the series is competently produced from a technical perspective, with relatively slick editing that uses match-cuts to smoothly slide between the past and present. There is certainly style here, as found in its period-appropriate ’70s disco fashion, making for a somewhat cohesive aesthetic. The backdrops look similarly convincing, even if this rendition of NYC feels like the mental construct of a tough-on-crime Reaganite politician (and not in the “it’s so absurd it’s cool” Escape from New York kind of way). Its use of insert songs is less successful, though, leading to a painfully on-the-nose soundscape (cue playing One Is The Loneliest Number by Three Dog Night as the main villain is, in fact, alone).
Despite being only three episodes long, The Continental is a slog that’s bogged down by poor characterization, brutal pacing, and extended droughts from its shootouts. And even when it does bring the heat with gunfights and brawls, these stretches aren’t nearly as creative or eye-catching as their filmic counterparts, unable to capture the same white-knuckled intensity or surprising visual comedy of what came before. Its inability to add interesting context to this setting or meaningfully flesh out its existing cast makes it feel like an unnecessary prequel, and even when judged outside the past material, it doesn’t bring anything compelling to the table in its own right. It’s a disappointing turn for a franchise that once transcended the languid trends of Hollywood action cinema to deliver something that felt vital. Much like Mr. Wick, maybe this series should have stayed in retirement.
The first episode of The Continental: From the World of John Wick premieres Friday, September 22 on Peacock.
Elijah Gonzalez is an assistant TV editor for Paste Magazine. In addition to watching the latest on the small screen, he also loves videogames, film, and creating large lists of media he’ll probably never actually get to. You can follow him on Twitter @eli_gonzalez11.
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