We will never be able to escape the capitalistic empires who demand that we not only see one movie, but its dozens of spin-offs as well. Yet out of all the big-budget franchises we’ve seen over the past two decades, John Wick managed to set itself apart.
The action gun-fu film series started small in scope, with its 2014 eponymous film starring Keanu Reeves simply wanting revenge for his murdered dog growing into a blockbuster series, each bigger than the last, making it one of the rare original success stories not based on a comic book.
Thus, we find ourselves at Peacock, for The Continental: From the World of John Wick (★☆☆☆☆), the prequel from Greg Coolidge, Kirk Ward, and Shawn Simmons about Winston Scott’s rise to power in the 1970s. While pretty to look at, the series is rotten to the core.
In the world of John Wick, The Continental is a hotel that moonlights as a safe space for assassins who aren’t allowed to be violent inside the hotel or risk the wrath of the High Table, essentially this world’s version of the Illuminati. It’s only fitting for a John Wick spin-off to start with an extravagantly gruesome robbery gone wrong, with Frankie (Ben Robson) barely making it out alive.
In London, we meet Winston Scott, played in the movies by Ian McShane, but here portrayed in his younger self by Colin Woodell, running million-dollar parking lot con-jobs before being kidnapped by Cormac (Mel Gibson), the current owner of the hotel and the man who entrapped the Scott family, alongside his assistant Charon (Ayomide Adegun, who in the films was played by the late Lance Reddick). Winston is instructed to find his brother Frankie or risk the hellfire of the many assassins readily available.
Winston finds some of his brother’s old war buddies at a dojo in Chinatown run by Lou (Jessica Allain), who is forced to fund the place through her brother Miles (Hubert Point-Du Jour) and his war buddy Lemmy (Adam Shapiro), who run a gun-smuggling business that’s being watched by detective KD (Mishel Prada).
After some rocky introductions, Winston finds Frankie holed up in a derelict movie theater with his wife, Yen (Nhung Kate), whom he met in the Vietnam War, and reveals he stole the High Table’s special one-of-a-kind coin printer. In the fallout, Winston decides that he will not let Cormac hunt them anymore and decides to overthrow The Continental.
The setting of 1970s New York is about as rundown as you could imagine. It honestly feels more in line with the franchise’s tone than the modern setting, and the violence that permeates the atmosphere feels full of kinetic energy waiting to burst. But then you begin to watch the series and realize that the nice sets and intricate scenes of violence, no matter how well pulled off, are built on hollow ground.
The Continental starts strong, laying down a dozen different characters and their potential importance early on, but then stalls, with various promising story elements overwhelmed by the protagonist’s story. Individual motivations boil down to bad archetypes that reveal one-note characters that do nothing other than serve the main narrative, which itself is sorely predictable.
The cast has some standouts, but their stories are so poorly told that by the end you realize that they were an afterthought. Characters like Yen, Lou, and Miles are set up to be important, but only serve to help Winston and nothing else. Woodell is serviceable as the lead, but can only do so much when his character’s ambitions fall to empty platitudes.
Then we get to Mel Gibson, a person who Hollywood-at-large decided was redeemed for his many examples of extreme homophobia, racism, anti-semitism, and sexism (despite no amends), as the main antagonist.
The decision to include Gibson was a flat-out mistake. Not only is his acting so subpar that it exacerbates his character’s flat and shallow writing, but it lacks the gravitas and finesse the role demands.
If he was just there being bad it would be one thing, but it’s almost comical the utter irony of Gibson’s character being the one to brutally murder one of the entire franchise’s only queer characters with a golf club in one of the most egregious “bury your gays” moments in quite some time.
The only other queer person is then traumatized by the mutilated corpse of his lover, then any mention of queerness is absent from the rest of the series. Not only does the entire situation seem tone-deaf, but it doesn’t seem necessary considering that if you went off of Gibson’s talent, you could find any other old White actor to do a shitty gangster impersonation and do it just as well.
If only we were done there.
The series has a huge “White Savior” undercurrent, with every story from a person of color being sidelined to make room for a narrative about a white straight man. At one point, the main character gives a speech to a Black woman about his backstory that feels so tone-deaf to its blatant white saviorism that it destroys the few bits of respect you might have left.
By the end of its three 90-minute episodes, which would drag even if you were to watch them at 2x speed, it’s very clear that any minorities were included simply to check some boxes and not to have legitimate representation.
The rest of The Continental ends with a mix of predictability and coincidence. Homophobic storyline or not, the series tries to copy not only Wick, but stylistic classics like Kill Bill and Sin City, and falls so short it feels like mockery. The pieces to craft some amazing action television were clearly present, but The Continental squanders all of it.
The Continental streams exclusively on Peacock, starting with Episode 1 on Sept. 22, followed by Episode 2 on Sept. 29, and Episode 3 on Oct. 6. Visit www.peacocktv.com.
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