The Continental (2023)
Directed by: Albert Hughes, Charlotte Brändström
Written by: Derek Kolstad, Glenise Mullins, Greg Coolidge, Ken Kristensen, Kirk Ward, Shawn Simmons
Starring: Adam Shapiro, Ayomide Adegun, Ben Robson, Colin Woodell, Hubert Point-Du Jour, Jeremy Bobb, Jessica Allain, Katie McGrath, Marina Mazepa, Mark Musashi, Mel Gibson, Mishel Prada, Nhung Kate, Ray McKinnon
THE CONTINENTAL: From The World of John Wick
Available on Prime Video
After his brother Frankie steals something valuable from his boss Cormac O’Connor, a mobster and the owner of The Continental hotel in New York, Winston Scott is forced to return from London to the city he grew up in in order to find his estranged brother before a furious Cormac does. During his quest to track down Frankie, Winston crosses paths with numerous individuals linked to his brother and their pasts. As the web from which Cormac surrounds himself becomes more evident, Winston realises there’s more to his brother’s crime than meets the eye, and that in order to be truly free from Cormac’s powerful vice-like grip over them and the city, he must take Cormac’s life and his home.
In this three-part spin-off from the John Wick action franchise, we see Colin Woodell don the cravat as a young Winston Scott, a young businessman (and part time conman) with hopes and aspirations and isn’t afraid to bend a few rules to get what he wants. In the John Wick films, set decades later, smooth talking Winston Scott, played by Ian McShane, is the owner of The Continental hotel, a safe haven neutral space for assassins. In this series, we discover how Winston came to be the head of the hotel and how he found himself embroiled within the assassin’s guild.
If you’re expecting balls-to-the-wall action from the word go then The Continental series will disappoint. It’s a departure from what we know from John Wick, instead preferring to build upon the lore of what we’ve become to know as gospel in the films. At its heart, it’s a crime thriller with much of the episodes focusing on the power dynamics and strategy of overcoming an adversary. The dialogue-heavy, dramatic episodes explore different areas, such as the hierarchy of the institution to which Cormac has aligned himself, and how the others all fall into place. Throughout the series, we meet a variety of characters, including brother and sister, Miles and Lou, whose father owner a karate dojo in Chinatown. Having served with Frankie Scott, Miles is a close ally of his and has been conducting some business since with the wanted man. Miles and friend Lemmy become people of interest for Winston, who’s desperate to track down Frankie before Cormac wipes him out. But Cormac isn’t the only one trying to locate Frankie as police detective KD is also keen on finding Frankie and becomes curious as to the secrets that lie within the walls of The Continental, something her on/off love interest and colleague Mayhew warns her away from. There’s an abundance of characters whose lives cross with Frankie’s which means most of the running time is trying to give space for these characters to be explored. The problem is, they’re not that interesting and their stories have very little impact on what is going on at the crux of the plot. This unnecessary slowdown of the story means there’s moments when the series drags and starts to become dull, whilst other aspects are rushed over. For instance, there’s characters like Charon and the underground community known as the Bowery that are rich for exploring, and whilst we get to spend some time with Charon, it pales in comparison to the time spent with others.
With all the planning and preparation in the first two episodes, the final third episode delivers what fans of John Wick have been waiting for: the action. There’s some ass-kickery to behold but many of the scenes involve gun warfare. The fight choreography isn’t a patch on what you can witness from the film series, but the scenes are done well enough to elicit excitement, with Nhung Kate’s Yen and Marina Marzepa’s Gretel providing most of the hand-to-hand combat thrills. However, it’s not necessarily the action in the hotel that is what’s the most entertaining, as I found that Ray McKinnon’s exploits from a nearby apartment, as undercover sniper Jenkins, to be the highlight, in particular his rapport with an unexpected guest interrupting his plans.
There’s plenty of strong performances in The Continental even if the script and plot isn’t as strong as it could be. Mel Gibson appears to relish the bad guy role as Cormac O’Connor, and proves a frightening adversary who will do whatever it takes to protect his house from falling. Slipping into an established character’s shoes, actor Ayomide Adegun gives more background to fan favourite, Charon, and what drives him as O’Connor’s concierge at the hotel. It’s great seeing the scenes play out between him and Cormac, as well as with Colin Woodell as Winston. Woodell manages to capture some of that suave delivery McShane nails as Winston, perhaps not as refined but reflects that early seed of a man that has yet to grow into the shoes he will one day fill. The yo-yoing of accent threw me somewhat and is perhaps my only nitpick of his performance as he does well to bring to life a character that is already well established further down the line. With Winston having spent time in London, the English inflections are there but this varies, with Woodell sounding more American in the later episodes the more time Winston spends in the city of his birth.
What The Continental does better than anything else in the series is ooze style. The decor is dripping in dingy, grimy browns you associate with the 1970s, with the inside of The Continental looking a far departure from the hotel we know from the 21st century. It’s like stepping back in time as the 70’s attitude and culture emanates from the environments explored, right down to the cars used and fashion on display, whilst hit songs from the era punctuate the scenes throughout. From an artistry and set design point of view, it’s a joy to behold and immerse yourself in to really get into the origin story of these characters. The music is simply the cherry on top. I’ve yet to hear a better usage for Popcorn than that used in the final episode of this series.
As a TV series, The Continental does a great job in building the lore of a franchise that fans adore whilst still keeping true to the characters. Perhaps the flow and writing is stifled at times and spends a little too much time dawdling unnecessarily, but it builds to a payoff that should satisfy most audiences who’ve tuned in to see some of the brutal action we’ve come to associate with John Wick. Just be prepared for the slow-burn preparation before the bloody carpet is rolled out.