This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie/series/feature being covered here wouldn't exist.
"The Continental: From the World of John Wick works because it’s different to its parent films and doesn’t attempt to follow suit either."
BY JOHN MCDONALD SEPTEMBER 21, 2023
The John Wick film series has become one of the greatest and best-loved action franchises of the 21st century, and it’s easy to understand why. What was originally supposed to be a singular film about a man’s quest for revenge over his precious dog, soon turned into a four-film mega series, with each film being as outrageously entertaining as the last. Here’s the question though, could the universe carry on without the eponymous John Wick appearing? Would another concept have the legs or the depth to explore this world in even more detail?
The Continental: From the World of John Wick is the project taking on that daunting mantle, and it’s a heavy task to become burdened with. So, with the mini-series being released on Amazon Prime on September 22nd, how does it fair as a standalone prequel to those great action films?
The Continental is co-written by a three-piece team consisting of Greg Coolidge, Kirk Ward, Shawn Simmons, and Ken Kristensen while being directed by the duo of Albert Hughes and Charlotte Brändström, with the spin-off being set years and years before John Wick was painting the streets red. If you didn’t know (because you haven’t watched the John Wick films) The Continental is a chain of hotels around the world that serves as neutral ground for members of the underground order that operates in the shadows. Now, if you have seen the films, you’ll be honoured with a slight head start when it comes to this world's lore, and you might also recognise some younger versions of several established characters while watching.
One of those identifiable persons is a young Winston Scott portrayed by Colin Woodell (the character Ian McShane plays in the film series) who acts as the series’ protagonist. The Continental explores the background story of how Winston Scott becomes embroiled in the hotel’s business, and his history with the current proprietor, Cormac O’Connor (Mel Gibson). Gibson is an interesting choice to portray the antagonist too; even though it seems as if he’s
about to crack a joke at any minute, he’s delightful to watch when he has this much fun with a role.
The first episode dubbed ‘Brothers in Arms’ takes place in 1970s New York as we follow Frankie (Ben Robson) through the infamous hotel, brushing shoulders with some of the deadliest people in the country as well a young Charon of course (made famous by the late Lance Reddick in the films and portrayed by Ayomide Adegun this time around). Unbeknownst to the inhabitants, Frankie is planning a heist to steal something special from the hotel vaults, but it’s not as simple as walking in and out of this deadly hotel, as Frankie soon finds out while being pursued by security (this is also the first time we see some of that famed violence that made the film series so popular).
Meanwhile, a young Winston Scott – an entrepreneur and successful money man – has been kidnapped from his London home and summoned to the offices of Cormac O’Connor to help him find the mysterious Frankie. Winston and Frankie, it turns out, are estranged brothers, but brothers they still are and to come between a pair of siblings who’ve been through what they have is a recipe for disaster for Cormac. Winston traverses around New York in search of old allies such as Peter Green’s Uncle Charlie (portrayed by David Patrick Kelly in the film series), while obtaining new associates in the form of siblings Miles and Lou (Hubert Point-Du Jour and Jessica Allain). There’s also Frankie’s hot-headed but formidable wife Yen (Nhung Kate) who joins the ranks and also delivers the best fight scene in the first episode, one that is so smooth and fluid that it would be at home in a John Wick film, never-mind its spin-off series.
The Continental can be a little slow at times, and the story does become a little vague, although there’s enough intrigue to keep it interesting. Episode two’s ‘Loyalty to the Master’ is the prime example of that, with the episode being used to bridge the gap between the opening episode and the finale, while also asking several important questions. The series does consist of a solid mix of musical bangers that covers the genres of Soul, Rock, and Motown, which does slightly inflate even the slowest of sequences – an eclectic mix of classic songs is sometimes all you need to get you in the zone. But it's not until episode three’s ‘Theatre of Pain’ when that infamous John Wick fight choreography and action that we were all expecting makes itself known, and the extra 20 minutes of runtime is certainly filled with it.
John Wick this series is not, but The Continental works because it isn’t that, and it tries to stand on its own two feet. The action in the series is never up to the standard of the film franchise, but it’s still hugely entertaining. The decision to spice up the shooting of these action scenes with creative camera angles is a success as it means it doesn’t have to be reliant on the one thing it lacks. There is also an absence of character and narrative background detail as well though; the series uses vague flashbacks to help a little bit, but they are sparse when they do come, and it affects the overall flow of the story and the understanding of motive.
The Continental is by no means the perfect show, nor is it just a really great spin-off, but it’s a long way off from becoming a bust. It works because it’s different to its parent films and doesn’t attempt to follow suit either. It’s a lot quirkier and far more light-hearted too, while
the connections between the characters are an authentic positive as well. The finale leaves us on a minor cliffhanger too (even though most of you know what eventually happens to Winston) but the development of his character is something that contains a lot of legs, so let’s see if this was a one-season experiment or whether we will see another series of The Continental in the not-too-distant future.