“The Continental: From the World of John Wick Review

Movie Bunker Score:

“The Continental: From the World of John Wick” offers a familiar but somewhat diluted dose of the “John Wick” universe, making it a suitable diversion for ardent fans craving more of the Wick experience while awaiting the next film installment and the upcoming Ana de Armas-led spin-off, “Ballerina,” set for release next year. However, it’s crucial to temper your expectations, as this Peacock three-part prequel series falls short of matching the star power of Keanu Reeves and the genre-defying ambition that characterized the film franchise.

Co-created by Greg Coolidge, Shawn Simmons, and Kirk Ward, the series attempts to follow in the footsteps of “John Wick: Chapter 4” by delving into intricate family dynamics, loyalty, and an assortment of characters who collectively lack the magnetic appeal of Reeves’ iconic protagonist. “The Continental” caters primarily to those who’ve wondered about the enigmatic Winston Scott (played by Ian McShane), the owner of the eponymous upscale hotel and mentor to John Wick, exploring his past several decades ago.

While the idea of expanding beyond the simple “revenge for a dead dog” motivation is commendable, “The Continental” sometimes feels burdened by its intricate plot involving two recently reunited brothers: the suave Winston (portrayed with McShane’s vocal cadence by Colin Woodell) and his hot-headed veteran sibling Frankie (Ben Robson). Their tumultuous relationship with Cormac (played by Mel Gibson), the paternal figure who molded them into lethal men, forms the crux of the narrative. Cormac, the overseer of the New York-based assassin stronghold known as the Continental, finds himself at odds with Frankie after the latter pulls off an audacious heist on Night One, setting in motion a series of escalating confrontations. A significant twist prompts Winston to consider seizing control of Cormac’s Continental.

To achieve this seemingly suicidal mission, Winston enlists Frankie’s war buddies, Miles (Hubert Point-Du Jour) and Lemmy (Adam Shapiro), who operate a dojo and weapons cache in Chinatown, alongside Miles’ sister, the resilient Lou (Jessica Allain). The team also receives assistance from Yen (Nhung Kate), Frankie’s wife, whom he met during his service in Vietnam in a harrowing encounter involving a bomb. Simultaneously, the series introduces a subplot featuring a curious cop named KD (Mishel Prada), who monitors the happenings at the Continental from a distance, yet remains ignorant of its inner workings.

Directed by Albert Hughes and Charlotte Brandstrom, the three episodes of this mini-series draw inspiration from ’70s crime thrillers, successfully immersing viewers in the gritty ambiance of New York City in 1981, set against the backdrop of a garbage strike and the lingering aftermath of the Vietnam War. The main characters, predominantly combat-weary veterans and immigrants seeking sanctuary, navigate a world where their war experiences inform their lethal skills and unwavering loyalty. However, the integration of gritty realism with the franchise’s stylized, blood-soaked fantasy, complete with eccentric twin assassins sporting bowl cuts, feels somewhat overwrought. “The Continental” endeavors to be a more “serious” addition to the “John Wick” universe but ultimately falls short in terms of excitement.

Despite its shortcomings, “The Continental” exhibits some inventive world-building moments, including interactions with the resourceful homeless population in the Bowery (the same locale from which Laurence Fishburne’s character, the Bowery King, hails). Additionally, the series creatively incorporates locations as integral weapons in certain sequences, exemplified by a tense showdown in a run-down movie theater that would be at home in a “John Wick” film.

Devotees of the “John Wick” films will find solace in the series’ meticulously choreographed hand-to-hand combat scenes, reminiscent of the work by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch and their stunt teams. The camera captures the action with precision, allowing viewers to relish every blow and move in confined spaces, such as a phone booth or the Continental’s hallways. Notably, Lou and Yen, two standout additions to the Wick universe, impress with their martial arts prowess, demonstrating the strength of their fists and feet in occasionally uneven but rhythmically engaging sequences. While “The Continental” struggles with gunplay, it excels in showcasing remarkable martial arts talent.

However, the series occasionally exhibits a lack of commitment to action spectacle, evident in uninspired blocking and CGI-heavy hallway shootouts presented as grainy security footage. A potentially exhilarating car chase in the first episode is hindered by shortcuts that diminish its impact, leaving viewers with a sense of missed opportunity rather than the adrenaline rush that should accompany vehicular mayhem in this universe.

Where “The Continental” invests its resources and budget is evident in its thrifty approach to style, featuring an abundance of ’70s rock songs. While the soundtrack injects excitement into some scenes, it occasionally overshadows the characters, with the music grooves and gritty basslines outshining the protagonists. These needle-drops, instead of enhancing the series, render it somewhat commonplace. The question arises whether the series truly needed to rely on classics like The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” to mark its new beginning.

Beyond the pacing, grandeur, and adrenaline-pumping allure of the “John Wick” films, “The Continental” notably lacks their charismatic cool factor. While Winston aptly mentions that it’s not the suit but the man inside that matters, “The Continental” leans more toward repetition—borrowing from “John Wick” and embracing worn-out tropes that the film series had distanced itself from, ultimately failing to capture the essence that made its predecessor legendary. The “John Wick” films were about ascending to the top, while “The Continental” merely strives, without the sharp focus of its forerunner, to survive the night.

“The Continental: From the World of John Wick” debuts its first episode on Friday, September 22nd, with subsequent episodes released weekly until October 6.