By Brontë H. Lacsamana Reporter
MONTHS after the release of the fourth and seemingly final installment of the John Wick films comes an unexpected and unlikely substitute for fans yearning for just a little more relentless fight in their lives.
The Continental: From the World of John Wick is, unfortunately, not a sequel, and it doesn’t have the franchise’s vengeful, tortured heartthrob Keanu Reeves to drive it forward. The 1970s-set TV spin-off, made up of just three episodes, instead expands the franchise by delving into the lore of the Continental hotel in New York that Wick and other assassins consider as neutral ground.
One might think that a short three-parter built around this bespoke underworld probably can’t hold the attention of those who came to love the films, but it’s actually a tightly directed, stylish offering. Co-created by Greg Coolidge, Shawn Simmons, and Kirk Ward, The Continental manages to take on the daunting task by weaving a complicated plot filled with high stakes about family and loyalty and a colorful cast of characters.
Anyone who saw John Wick and felt intrigued by the fancy hotel for assassins will enjoy the mini-series. It shows how Continental owner Winston Scott (played by Ian McShane) and his right-hand man Charon (Lance Reddick) came to be the stewards of the hotel decades ago.
Here, their younger selves — played by Colin Woodell and Ayomide Adegun respectively — take on the challenge of overthrowing its 1970s-era owner, the villainous Cormac, brought to life by movie star Mel Gibson.
Mr. Woodell does a decent job mimicking McShane’s recognizably suave, eloquent voice, making young Winston a believably posh London grifter who is returning to his New York roots. Meanwhile, Adegun as young Charon does not have as distinct a presence as Reddick, but he gives justice to his role as a new immigrant in over his head at the Continental.
It all kicks off when Winston’s estranged brother Frankie (Ben Robson) pulls off a robbery of the hotel’s ancient coin press, which is used to forge their secret currency. As an army veteran who is now a gang enforcer, Frankie is easily the stand-in for Wick in this series. The first extended fight sequence of the robbery and subsequent escape showcase his capability to drive forward an epic action set-piece.
Afterwards, Cormac is forced to enlist Winston’s help to find his brother and the coin press, which is very important to high-ranking people in the underworld. Mr. Gibson’s Cormac is violent under pressure, as he becomes full of rage and as cartoonish as a TV villain can be (for better or for worse).
The other talented people in the cast do their part well, like Jessica Allain as a martial-arts master with a heart, Ray McKinnon as an eccentric yet lonely sharpshooter, and Marina Mazepa and Mark Musashi as a pair of weird assassin twins, both doll-like and deadly.
On the downside, there’s Katie McGrath’s masked Adjudicator, who looks like she was doing cosplay of a video game character, complete with corny mysterious dialogue. She and Mr. Gibson’s Cormac might just be the lamest villains in all of the John Wick universe.
When it comes to fight scenes, The Continental harkens back to how the films use locations as weapons themselves (like the hall of mirrors, for example). This time, a run-down movie theater serves as the unpredictable stage for one of the many battles. The hand-to-hand combat scenes are also clean and full of cool stunts.
Just decent action shouldn’t cut it, though, especially not with people coming from the behemoth that is John Wick: Chapter 4. Underwhelming gun-pointing stand-offs are the major culprit here. Though the competent choreography has clarity, it isn’t able to evoke the sheer sense of catharsis that the violence in the John Wick films does.
What the miniseries succeeds in doing is recreating the feel of 1970s crime thrillers. Set in New York City years after the Vietnam War, all the main characters are psychologically shaken, having seen combat or war and leading them down a road of killing for loyalty.
It all seems more serious than the John Wick films, but it fails to ramp up a similar level of excitement, with the convoluted plot getting in the way.
The Continental is a visually interesting, somewhat moody period piece that boasts great style and technicality. It’s supported by an oddball cast of characters and a fun soundtrack full of soul and disco classics of the era. Most important of all, it’s tightly woven, making sure that people won’t get bored settling for the four-hour romp while waiting for more John Wick to come.