This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.
In 2014 (2015 in the UK) the world was introduced to John Wick. The film, which starred Keanu Reeves as a retired hit-man drawn back into the criminal underbelly, was a surprise success. Its blending of wry humour, neon, electronica, and blistering action sequences made it an instant hit with the action crowd. Next came three sequels, each outperforming the original in terms of box office and high stakes action. Not content with leaving the franchise, a spinoff film, Ballerina, starring Ana de Armas is in the works. But before that, a spin-off television show – The Continental – has arrived.
Debuting on Prime Video from Friday 22nd September, The Continental tells the story of John Wick's hotel chain of choice. Set in the seventies, The Continental joins a younger version of Ian McShane's Winston (played here by Colin Woodell) as he takes on the current Continental owner, Cormac (Mel Gibson).
On paper, a television series based on the Continental hotel chain sounds like the perfect way to expand the world of Wick. In reality, The Continental is a slew of disappointments. With the exception of Winston and one other character, The Continental is devoid of everything that the John Wick movie series is known for. There is the obvious lack of Mr. Wick, but that is not an issue. The troubles come from the presentation of the world. The John Wick franchise is famous for its slick visual style, marrying neons and blacks together perfectly. Here, series directors Albert Hughes and Charlotte Brändström forgo that familiar imagery for something far more basic. Whilst accurately reflecting an interpretation of seventies New York, this is not the stylised playground for assassins to conduct business in. The change in appearance makes The Continental look like any other generic seventies-set gangster show.
Another nail in the coffin comes via the soundtrack. The time setting makes it difficult for the usual electronic music to be pumped in, but the choice of music that is used further pushes The Continental into generic territory. Each episode is packed to bursting with seventies hits, some of them given funky covers. These songs have been used time and time again in other similar shows meaning The Continental struggles to claim its own identity.
Whilst one can accept the absence of Keanu, electronic beats, and neon hues due to the new time period, the lack of exciting action cannot be forgiven. The choreography and action set-pieces across the four film series have become increasingly more impressive. Replicating some of these on a more modest television budget is of course impossible. And yet even the most basic of fights is lacking that intense yet graceful finesse. In a world where other gangster TV shows such as Gangs of London are matching, if not besting Hollywood, The Continental should and could have done better. The show tries to populate itself with plenty of gun fights and hand-to-hand combat, but it is lacking any spark to excite the audience. There is little in these moments to signpost themselves as being Wickian in any way. Worse than that, they are entirely forgettable.
A rinse and repeat of the movies would be equally bad, but The Continental is so unrecognisable from its source that it almost feels like another concept was just given the John Wick moniker to increase its viewership potential. The story links to the franchise's mythos tenuously. Winston is the anchor, but it's hard to pair this young version to the older one seen in the films. For one, Woodell is playing the character as very American, while McShane has always maintained his Britishness. Worse though, there is little character development for not just Winston, but all the supporting characters too. By the end of the series it's hard to recall anyone's name, let alone anything else about them.
The whole exercise of The Continental feels like a massive squandering of potential. As such, the chances of audiences seeing The Continental back for a second stay are highly unlikely.
The Continental is available on Prime Video from Friday 22nd September.