The Continental Review: An Underwhelming Prequel and Spin-Off

The new spin-off does not reach the heights of its beloved predecessor.

What began a decade ago with John Wick, the modestly-budgeted action flick starring Keanu Reeves and co-directed by longtime stunt choreographers Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, revitalized Reeves’ career and launched Stahelski and Leitch into lucrative solo directing gigs. With each successive entry, the John Wick series created an expansive, standalone universe featuring a world-spanning assassins guild, an all-powerful, multinational criminal organization. It also set new standards for action setpieces on film, some of which put the lie to the laws of physics, logic, or human biology – a plus, not a negative.

With John Wick: Chapter 4 released earlier this year, the title character’s violence-filled journey seemed to arrive at a conclusive end. That, of course, didn’t stop the rights-holders from announcing spin-offs like Ballerina, set to star Ana de Armas, as well the slightly more intriguing, if ultimately more disappointing prequel/spin-off, The Continental: From the World of John Wick. The four-and-a-half-hour, three-episode miniseries primarily focuses on the origin story of Winston Scott (Ian McShane in the film series, here portrayed by Colin Woodell).

If Wick does exist in the ‘70s-era world of The Continental, he’s a mere toddler, his killing days still well into the future. Instead, the first episode gives us a somewhat reasonable Wick stand-in, Frank Scott (Ben Robson), Winston’s older brother. In the opening scenes, we learn he is employed as the muscle for Cormac O’Conner (Mel Gibson), franchise owner and operator of the Continental, the New York hotel specifically created, organized, and run for the benefit of assassins-for-hire. They all operate under a familiar code of conduct: no killing on Continental grounds, otherwise you will be considered excommunicado and sizable bounties will be put on their heads. It’s almost enough to guarantee peace between attendees.

Said peace doesn’t last, of course; Frank, working under his own direction (or possibly someone else’s hidden agenda), breaks free of O’Conner’s iron-fisted control and daringly steals an object from the Continental’s vault. The nature of that object won’t be spoiled here, but it functions as the main plot engine for the three-episode series. In a bid to duplicate what John Wick fans expect from the franchise, Frank’s theft leads to a firefight between Frank and an army under O’Conner’s control. Shot, choreographed, and edited generically, the first setpiece doesn’t impress so much as signals what not-quite positive things are to come action-wise.

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Everyone wants what Frank has stolen, from O’Conner himself, the High Table’s NYC representative, the Adjudicator (Katie McGrath in a half-mask), and anyone who allies themselves on one of three sides. The Winston Scott we meet, however, isn’t on any particular side. He’s grifting money from a dubious Englishman to cover costs involving a carpark in a London restaurant. He’s also trying to spend a little alone time with the Englishman’s wife seconds before O’Conner’s men appear to kidnap him and bring him to America, where O’Conner forces him to help recover what Frank stole.

Between shootouts shot at medium or long-distance — as opposed to the close-quarters shooting of the John Wick series proper — Winston attempts to find Frank, not for O’Conner’s sake or interests but for his own. Winston eventually finds himself allying with an assortment of characters; Miles (Hubert Point-Du Jour) and Lou (Jessica Allain), the former Frank’s Vietnam comrade-in-arms; Frank’s wife and radical leftist Yen (Nhung Kate); Lemmy (Adam Shapiro), who is also a Vietnam War veteran; and Jenkins (Ray McKinnon), an old associate of Frank’s and a retired assassin. A separate subplot involves NYC detective K. D. Di Silva (Misel Prada), who keeps finding herself crossing paths with Winston and his associates. A young Charon (Ayomide Adegun portraying the role previously portrayed by the late Lance Reddick), Winston’s once-and-future second-in-command, functions as a wild card here.

Eventually, the slowly developing plots, subplots, and counter-plots converge at the Continental. A right bastard if there ever was one, O’Conner desperately wants to hold onto power – losing it means instant death. Winston wants to remove O’Conner permanently. The hotel, filled with trigger-happy assassins literally waiting for their signal, explodes into mayhem and carnage. Only an extended fight scene involving Miles and Lou on one side and mute twin assassins on the other comes even remotely close to duplicating the stylishness or inventiveness of similar scenes found in the John Wick series.

Part of the problem, perhaps, lies in focusing on Winston’s journey to the detriment of the other characters. Winston’s survival is never in doubt (prequel plot armor), so it makes his eventual ascension a suspense-free, foregone conclusion. As a result, it’s Miles and Lou, sparring siblings out of a Blaxploitation film, who emerge as the strongest, most engaging characters. Miles’ Vietnam War experience gets at best superficial treatment, but he also has one of the most memorable scenes in the entire series. As a martial arts expert, Lou gets to do her thing several times, at least twice in an otherwise unconnected subplot involving the Chinatown dojo they inherited from their late father. However, all of these characters remain on the sidelines, leaving us with an overall underwhelming addition to the John Wick franchise.

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The Continental: From the World of John Wick premieres today, Friday, September 22, on Prime Video.



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