At its core, The Continental: From the World of John Wick is a simple story.
In an attempt to rescue his brother, one man finds himself on a mission to overthrow the head of the notorious Continental hotel, a safe haven for dangerous criminals and the centre of the growing and lucrative world of organised crime.
Our protagonist Winston Scott (Colin Woodell) sets off on this seemingly deadly mission with a group of characters, who on the surface are different from one another but share similar motivations.
Centred on community, belonging and friendship, The Continental is a story about family – the ones we are born into and the ones we create for ourselves.
However, fuelled by revenge, the series (in typical John Wick fashion) also features intense fight scenes and some pretty cool one liners.
The American crime drama television mini-series is a prequel spin-off from the John Wick franchise. It spans the origin story of how the hotel-for-assassins, an instrumental centrepiece in the John Wick universe, came to be.
Since it began in 2014, the franchise – which stars Keanu Reeves in all four films – has grossed more than $1 billion worldwide. It seems only logical to create a prequel set in the same universe and one that is composed of the same successful ingredients.
Through its tone and aesthetics, the limited series stays true to what made the John Wick films unique, elegant and entertaining.
A melancholic and gritty tone is created through the lighting and muted colour palate, as well as the backstories and mindset of the characters. As in the films, the action choreography, which combines martial arts and gunplay set against highly stylised set designs, is mesmerising.
Annoyingly however, like all films or shows that are trying to convey moody atmospheres, there were many scenes that were too dark – from a completely visual perspective rather than an emotional one.
And yet, it can be argued that the gore and violence in some scenes could have been fleshed out (no pun intended) with more details. Instead – and this unfortunately points to a lack of genuine creative thinking – The Continental relies on the overdone trope, where menacing characters are marked by being physically different or disfigured.
However, putting the luscious, film noir style and tone of the show to one side, is the story any good? Definitely.
The writing team did a great job developing a convincing narrative centred around the origins of the hotel and the circumstances that led Winston Scott, as a young man in 1970s New York City, to become a pivotal figure in the later films.
The story begins with Scott and his brother Frankie as young boys who are working for the current hotel manager Cormac (Mel Gibson). Scott, however, is pushed by his brothers to leave New York for London, where he reinvents himself and makes a lot of money along the way.
Things change when Frankie betrays Cormac and steals the coveted coin press, a machine which produces gold coins used as currency in the criminal underworld. With a huge and hefty target on his back, Frankie disappears, cutting ties with his former associates and friends.
Scott returns to New York, initially by force, but is then determined to find his brother and seek revenge on Cormac for his many sins.
The story is well-paced, and propelled by the fight scenes, a thought-out plot and character development. Yet, the characters and the world seemed a notch more caricatured than the John Wick films.
While there is a rich backstory to all the characters, their lives, histories and emotions are depicted on a superficial level with no subtext to the dialogue or their actions. A more nuanced approach would have sharpened the narrative to one that is not only gripping from a pacing perspective but emotionally captivating too.
Given the current writers' and actors' strike in Hollywood, with no news on when some of our favourite shows are due to return, we need to take what we can get. The Continental will definitely hit the mark when it comes to entertaining content – just don’t expect it to leave much of an impression.
The Continental: From the World of John Wick will debut on September 22 on Amazon Prime.