Or, From John Wick’s World, or May Contain Traces of John Wick or even John Wick Sold Separately; this is the first spin off from the four film John Wick franchise, but one that’s set back in the 1970’s and doesn’t include Keanu Reeves. That’s already quite a departure, in that our route into this particular neon noir universe was the emotional hook we found in John Wick’s mourning, for his recently departed wife, for his beloved dog, and for his quiet, peaceful life that no amount of cathartic killing would ever bring back. That said, Wick certainly gave revenge a right good go cutting a swathe through, checks notes, 439 victims on his way to revenging himself on the High Table; how does that dank, dangerous world look without an empathetic protagonist we can root for?
Fortunately, there’s plenty of other returning characters we’re already interested in; Ayomide Adegun looks the part as concierge Charon, and the main focus here is on Winston Scott, previously played by Ian McShane but now digitally de-aged to Colin Woodell. And most significantly, there’s also the Hotel Continental, the New York crash-pad for between-job assassins which provided our gateway to a secret world in the original films. It’s an oasis of class and wood-panelled quiet in a world of carnage, ruled over by Cormac (Mel Gibson), none-to pleased when safe-crackers steal a valuable coin-press from the hotel in an ingenious heist that uses the propulsive force of a nearby subway train. Scott’s brother Frankie (Ben Robson) is fingered for the crime, and when he can’t be found, Cormac brings Scott into the Continental for the first time as ‘bait’ to facilitate a pursuit…
Critics seem to have been more concerned about reviewing the wokeness (or not) of casting Gibson rather than the content of The Continental. Those who feel that such casting ruins the purity of the John Wick universe might want to take a look at Sylvia Kristel’s autobiography, which hardly puts McShane in a good light; such distinctions seem to be applied selectively by those keen to take offense. There’s no point in reviewing the politics of the cast and crew of any venture; instead, it’s worth noting that The Continental doesn’t disgrace the John Wick brand, with cool 70’s cars and music from Boney M to Black Sabbath, Crimson and Clover to ZZ Top’s La Grange, and there’s bonus points for picturing the Continental at night with Chicago’s If You Leave Me Now playing on the radio. The best of streaming speaks the language of cinema, and soft fades from a circular atrium to a changing traffic light demonstrate some degree of visual style and panache, as does the fashion debate about the difference between a cravat and an ascot. The bursts of gunplay aren’t as protracted and deliberately excessive as the movies, but they’re still a cut above most bland tv action, the car chase is snazzily edited in an elliptical way that we’ve not quite seen before, and there’s neat details that fit the John Wick jigsaw like how David Bowie’s tour investments connect to the Continental’s backers. And Cormac’s choice of killers, stoney-faced bowl-cutters Hansel and Gretel, look like they’ll be fun to hang with.Director Albert Hughes (Menace to Society, Dead Presidents, From Hell) generally knows his stylish game, and so proves it here.
Future John Wick scholars will reflect on an initially frosty reception for The Continental due to virtue-signalling hand-wringing about Gibson, but The Continental got off to a sturdy if not quite flying start with a well-constructed back-story for Winston Scott and The Continental itself. It’s a bonus not to see this world through Wick’s revenge-dimmed eyes but in a calmer, more methodical way that strips the franchise back to its 1970’s Alistair MacLean influences as intended by executive producers David Leitch, Chad Stahelski and original John Wick writer Derek Kolstad. It may not be subtle, The Continental, but for John Wick fans with open minds, it just about does what you want it to do.
The Continental is on Peacock in the US, free on Prime in the UK and elsewhere.