‘The Continental’ Review: ‘John Wick’ Spin-Off Is Able to Stand Alone
This review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.The John Wick franchise has become the pinnacle of modern American action. This kicked off with rather humble beginnings as the first film introduced us to a retired hitman who is forced to come out of retirement to seek revenge for the theft of his car and the killing of his puppy which was a gift from his late wife. Yet, over time, it has grown to something far greater than that initial premise. The John Wick franchise has become an action delight with its stylish action sequences set in iconic locations around the world. More than that, they’ve revitalized Keanu Reeves’ career and ushered in a renaissance for the actor.
John Wick: Chapter 4 was a beautiful conclusion to the film series but also left the door open for more. However, the question remains: how can the franchise move on without its titular character? The Continental attempts to do the impossible by taking us back to the past.
No Wick? No Problem for ‘The Continental’
The series takes us back to the 1970s as we follow a young Winston Scott (Colin Woodell) when he comes face to face with the owner of The Continental, Cormac (Mel Gibson). The very idea of a Winston origin story was not something necessarily needed, but Woodell’s performance brings a new dimension to the character not seen in the original films. His history with Cormac and that battle between the two is very much in line with what we’ve come to love from the Wick franchise. The films managed to make incredibly simplistic stories shine by focusing on world-building and memorable action sequences. The Continental tells a similar revenge story, but make no mistake, this cast and their individual stories can engross you in a way that will leave you longing for the next episode.
Ben Robson’s role as Winston’s brother, Frankie Scott, is a character who is a classic bruiser. His strained relationship with Winston feels authentic, mainly because of his chemistry with Woodell. Jessica Allain’s Lou, Hubert Point-Du Jour’s Miles, and Mishel Prada’s KD offer an outsider’s view of the Continental and the underworld that make for enjoyable, albeit underdeveloped, storylines. Unfortunately, characters like Ayomide Adegun’s younger take on Charon are underutilized in the early stages of the story — as the focus is always, first and foremost, Winston Scott.
‘The Continental’ Pulls No Punches
One of the show’s strengths is the fight choreography. The opening moments of the first episode see Frankie taking on the might of the Continental. Every single shot matters as blood splatters down the halls of the hotel. The way the stunt team and the filmmakers keep the camera locked in on the action adds weight to every single punch. The oners make the scenes visceral and dynamic in a way that television usually doesn’t deliver. We are even treated to an incredible 57-minute action sequence during the final night as Winston faces off against Cormac. Not only are there stellar shootouts, but the few times we get hand-to-hand combat, it’s brutal in the best sense.
Unfortunately, as The Continental progresses, it rarely reaches the highs of that opening scene. The show quickly falls into explosion-heavy scenes with brief fights sprinkled throughout until we reach a finale that cranks things up to eleven. It’s an intentional approach to how the narrative is crafted, but it leads to lulls throughout. Thankfully, there are plenty of other things to keep your attention.
‘The Continental’ Favors Style Over Substance
That being said, The Continental takes full advantage of the time period in which it’s set. Each episode starts with an incredible opening credit sequence reminiscent of Foxy Brown or James Bond films. The series uses needle drops throughout, tapping into key songs of the era. The visual aesthetic also sets the show’s tone, giving it a pulpy atmosphere that echoes 1970s cinema.
However, the series doesn’t simply use the flashing lights and music to stand out as it also blends them into the core identity of the story. Directors Albert Hughes (Nights 1 and 3) and Charlotte Brändström (Night 2) have found a way to keep the series fresh even though action dramas of the 1970s and the John Wick films heavily influence it.
Visuals aside, The Continental does have its fair share of pacing issues. With each episode nearing 90 minutes, there’s a lot of time spent on exposition as the series attempts to introduce every new character and location in only three nights. While the payoff is ultimately well worth it, a much tighter story might have been told within the usual 60 minutes. So many people are introduced, but only a few make it to being fully developed characters by the end. A lot of time is spent on Winston’s journey, and if the excess had been trimmed, we could have had a much tighter, more personal story. Instead, each episode is a tad too long with little to show for it.
Overall, however, The Continental is a worthy addition to the Wick-verse. It serves as a fantastic origin story for Winston and a serviceable expansion of the world we’ve come to love. Each night feels distinct, as the stakes continually get higher and higher. It does often get lost with so many characters and plot points, but if you are willing to give it time, the series has terrific action and a great cast, proving that the franchise doesn’t need to rely on Keanu Reeves to thrive.
The Big Picture
- The Continental takes us back to the 1970s, offering an origin story for Winston Scott that adds a new dimension to his character.
- The series captures the style of 1970s cinema with incredible opening credits and needle drops of era-specific music, giving it a pulpy atmosphere.
- While the series suffers from pacing issues and underdeveloped characters, it is still a worthy addition to the John Wick franchise, showcasing great action and a talented cast.
The Continental premieres September 22 on Peacock.