The original John Wick was a self-contained action classic, its plot as lean as its gun-fu combat was ferocious. Its tale demanded no sequel and yet three followed, each one providing even more thrillingly choreographed mayhem that helped offset the fact that its serialized narrative—and the assassin-underworld mythology upon which it was based—was convoluted and rather silly. It’s a series predicated on stylish brutality and the magnetism of its peerlessly cool headliner, Keanu Reeves. Subtract those fundamental elements from its equation, and what you have is merely fanciful nonsense—which is a fitting description of The Continental: From the World of John Wick.
An origin story for Winston Scott (played in the movies by Ian McShane), John Wick’s buddy and the manager of The Continental hotel that caters to hired killers, The Continental: From the World of John Wick is a three-part prequel (premiering Sept. 22 Peacock) that gives franchise fans everything they want save for a charismatic marquee lead, interesting and exciting bloodshed, or characters and lore worth paying attention to for an extended period of time. As an attempt to inflate the John Wick universe minus the very components that make it captivating in the first place, it’s both proof that Hollywood stardom still matters, as well as confirmation that strip-mining popular properties until their every secret, backstory, and detail has been explained and dramatized is a surefire way to kill the proverbial golden goose.
And did I mention that, on top of all its mistakes, it co-stars famously intolerant Mel Gibson as a villain who, at one point, viciously murders a gay man to keep him from his beloved?
In every way, The Continental: From the World of John Wick succeeds only in falling shy of expectations. With each installment running close to feature length, Greg Coolidge, Kirk Ward, and Shawn Simmons’ series begins with its sole adrenalized bang. Frankie (Ben Robson), a tough ’Nam vet working for bigwig Cormac (Gibson) at New York City’s The Continental during some unspecified point in the 1970s, stages a nifty heist of the hotel’s most prized possession: a coin press that makes the fancy gold currency used by global mercenaries.
To escape with his bounty, Frankie is compelled to slaughter a small battalion of adversaries, and director John Hughes (who helms Episodes 1 and 3) orchestrates this sequence with requisite dynamic flair. Alas, it’s not a hint of things to come, as what ensues over the next four-plus hours is mostly world-building of the dreariest sort, all of it focused on men and women whose personalities and plights are impressively banal.
Because Cormac is mad about the theft of his precious MacGuffin, he kidnaps Frankie’s posh wheeler-dealer brother Winston (Colin Woodell) in London and tells him he must retrieve his estranged sibling and bring him to The Continental or both will feel the wrath of the establishment, which wields “power beyond your imagination.” Gibson’s Cormac is a typical baddie with a thick New York accent and a habit of using big vocabulary words, and Woodell’s Winston is a bland cipher who wears an ascot and reluctantly agrees to track down his wayward brother. This leads him to a Chinatown karate dojo run by Miles (Hubert Point-Du Jour) and Lou (Jessica Allain), whose dad founded the place and who now work as gunrunners alongside partner Lemmy (Adam Shapiro). They too know and would like to find Frankie, and eventually, he’s discovered hiding out with his Vietnamese girlfriend Yen (Nhung Kate).
Everyone in The Continental: From the World of John Wick has a tormented past and/or complicated present, and that includes detective KD (Mishel Prada), who’s having an affair with her married colleague Mayhew (Jeremy Bobb) and who wants, for mysterious reasons, to locate Frankie. There’s also Charon (Ayomide Adegun), the character played by Lance Reddick in the movies, who serves at Cormac’s side and who talks at regular intervals about the father he left behind in Nigeria. As imagined by the series, they’re all indistinct photocopies of their big-screen counterparts or one-dimensional nobodies going through substandard badass motions, and for reasons that remain baffling throughout, they’re rarely called upon to show off their fighting skills. Aside from a couple of brief scuffles involving Lou and a final siege on The Continental, the proceedings put far greater emphasis on lethargic drama than on chaotic over-the-top carnage.
Although there’s a cartoonishness to its grimy ’70s New York City, its silent, funny-haired twin killers Hansel (Mark Musashi) and Gretel (Marina Mazepa), and its masked Adjudicator (Katie McGrath)—who serves on the High Table council that governs the hotel and its employees and patrons—The Continental: From the World of John Wick is consistently tame and turgid. Hughes and fellow director Charlotte Brändström shoot everything in drab gloom and their scripts dully revisit locales and paradigms already introduced in the films, such as the army of the “invisible” commanded by Lawrence Fishburne’s Bowery King, which the series reveals he apparently inherited from Mazie (Marsha Nicole). Rather than expanding outward, Coolidge, Ward, and Simmons’ prequel reduces the franchise’s scope and scale by simply rehashing.
By its second episode, The Continental: From the World of John Wick has ground to a veritable halt, wasting energy on interpersonal squabbles and vengeful schemes that are neither original nor consequential. Choice soundtrack cuts from The Who, James Brown, Heart, and numerous others strive to offset the torpor, as do a variety of cutesy subplots, none more tedious than a sniper named Gene (Ray McKinnon) trying to strike up a romantic rapport with the woman whose apartment he’s commandeered to complete a homicidal task. The material culminates with a prolonged attack on The Continental, as Wilson and his compatriots strive to take down Cormac before he can off them, and while this allows the series to finally deliver the anticipated blazing-guns goods, it plays out perfunctorily, its every gruesome gesture eliciting a weary shrug.
Ultimately, The Continental: From the World of John Wick fails to realize Reeves’ central role in the appeal of the John Wick films. Imagining that those predecessors’ formula might work without him—and with an augmented focus on their mythos—turns out to be the most misguided of this show’s many unwise decisions.
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