The “John Wick” films, featuring Keanu Reeves as the world’s most tormented hitman, are a fusion of aesthetics, intricate systems, and meticulously choreographed sequences. They showcase Reeves’ deadly cheekbones, nighttime cinematography resembling the fantasies of a teenager’s black-light room, a blend of gangster drama ethics and medieval fantasy rituals, and the relentless grace of Reeves in fight scenes, moving with the methodical precision of a chef perfecting their signature dish. This amalgamation creates a sensory and emotional continuity that can captivate those, like me, susceptible to its allure.
The directorial work of Chad Stahelski, particularly in the original “John Wick” alongside David Leitch, ensures that these films are not only visually striking but also infused with subtle humor. The ensemble cast, including Reeves, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Laurence Fishburne, Anjelica Huston, and Willem Dafoe, adeptly adapts their performances to match the unique material.
While it seems that the John Wick sequel journey has concluded with “John Wick: Chapter 4,” the franchise is expanding into new territory. An upcoming spinoff film centered on a different character is slated for release, and recently, a prequel mini-series titled “The Continental” premiered on the Peacock streaming service. Despite its full title, “The Continental: From the World of John Wick,” the television series feels worlds apart.
However, “The Continental” proves to be a lackluster addition. Spanning four and a half hours across three feature-length episodes, it loads up on incidents and exposition but lacks a clear form or distinction. The primary issue likely lies in the writing by Greg Coolidge, Ken Kristensen, Shawn Simmons, and Kirk Ward. The dialogue, while abundant, fails to achieve the concise, aphoristic quality found in the films. Additionally, the central theme of revenge is diluted, burdening characters with formulaic, virtue-signaling backstories that lack the emotional impact of Wick’s experiences in the movies.
The production also falls short, attempting to recreate a gritty, trash-strewn 1970s New York City on Budapest locations and soundstages. The Continental, an upscale underworld hotel and neutral zone for hitmen and bounty hunters, is a key setting. In “The Continental,” we witness Winston Scott, portrayed in the films by McShane and here by Colin Woodell, as a young con artist clashing with the previous owner, Cormac, played by Mel Gibson.
The convoluted plot follows Winston as he assembles a team of outsiders to avenge his brother, recover a priceless stolen artifact, and take control of the hotel. The action unfolds in stereotypical areas like the waterfront, Chinatown, Alphabet City, and the Bowery, with plenty of effort but little imagination in the staging. The story is underscored by an on-the-nose selection of 1970s music, reinforcing period details with Alka-Seltzer commercials, “Coffy” posters, Pong, references to blaxploitation kung fu films, and nods to “The Day of the Jackal.” Despite the screen being filled with details, nothing leaves a lasting impression.
Although the cast boasts talent, performances tend to fall flat. Woodell and Ayomide Adegun, portraying the future Continental concierge Charon, exhibit competence but lack the uniqueness and style McShane and Reddick brought to the characters. Mel Gibson, billed as the top star but in a secondary role, delivers a one-note portrayal of grouchy exasperation without conveying genuine menace. A few individuals manage to stand out, such as Marina Mazepa and Mark Musashi as eerie Teutonic killing machines, Jessica Allain as a milder version of a Tamara Dobson-style martial arts expert, and Ray McKinnon as a folksy sharpshooter.
In the crucial aspect of action sequences, “The Continental” adopts a stylistic element from the “Wick” films: the need for each victim of ritualistic mayhem to be shot at least twice. However, beyond this, the action choreography lacks the cleverness and clarity that can transform violence into a visually and emotionally cathartic experience, as seen in the songs of a great musical. This is a world “The Continental” has yet to explore.