Depending on one’s familiarity with the John Wick franchise at large, Peacock’s “three-part event” entitled The Continental: From the World of John Wick is definite cause for celebration. This prequel series has some especially big shoes to fill on the heels of 2023’s euphoric John Wick: Chapter 4. Prequels already carry with them the baggage of prior installments, as well as the struggle to justify a reason they exist in the first place. Set in the grimy world of 1970s New York City, The Continental traces the rise to power of one Winston Scott. John Wick fans will remember that Winston is destined to take over a bubbling underworld of crime and corruption in the form of the NYC iteration of iconic hotel chain, The Continental. Ian McShane portrays Winston in the films, and thanks to some truly excellent casting, Colin Woodell’s Winston adds unforeseen depth to the character. For fans of frolicking action and eye-popping visuals, The Continental: From the World of John Wick asks guests to sign in at the front desk—and to leave their morality at the door.
The series begins in 1955, with the tossing of a Molotov cocktail that sets ablaze a dangerous course of events. The bond between two brothers is quickly established before we flash forward years later. Frankie (Ben Robson, Animal Kingdom, Vikings), the older brother, falls into gun-running and crime. In the premiere, Frankie stages a big heist at The Continental, wherein he manages to stash a super-important coin press whose ultimate purpose is a mystery. Nevertheless, the High Table will stop at nothing to get it back. Winston (Woodell, The Originals, The Flight Attendant), a smooth-talking swindler, does not have much communication with his brother. Snatched and drugged in London by multiple people, Winston ends up back in New York City. Big boss and current “manager” of The Continental, Cormac (a gleefully insane Mel Gibson), corners Winston, commanding answers for his brother Frankie’s inexcusable transgressions.
This coin press, described as “an artifact that can topple an empire,” proves difficult to track down. For Winston, stumbling upon the Burton Karate dojo becomes a godsend. There, he discovers old friends of Frankie’s who used to run guns with him, though they have all since had a falling out. This presents a cavalcade of interesting new blood, including Lemmy (Adam Shapiro, Never Have I Ever, Sense8) and Miles (Hubert Point-Du Jour, Dr. Death). Winston and company race against the clock to track down Frankie and reach the coin press before Cormac. The High Table looms menacingly over Cormac, warning him that they will take action if he is unable to track it down himself.
The Continental introduces a couple cool concepts about the hotel, while of course giving us a whole new roster of faces, both new and old, to root for in the process. Young Charon (Ayomide Adegun, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes) is one of my favorites, while Frankie’s flame Yen (Nhung Kate, The Housemaid) and dojo owner Lou (Jessica Allain, 2022’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre) are new standouts. Lou gets the majority of the truly badass action sequences, and trust us—there are plenty of them. In keeping with John Wick tradition, impressive, jaw-dropping stunt work sets this show apart from many others. One of my favorites is a tightly-filmed brawl inside of a phone booth, while epic showdowns propel momentum in the series’ final chapter. Overhead shots, intimate stunt choreography, and security camera angles keep the non-stop violence from ever growing stale despite there being so much of it.
All three episodes are movie-length, with the third and final one clocking in longest at nearly an hour and a half. To my surprise, the length never sags at the expense of the story. By the time the climactic third episode rolls around, the pace is relentless. Showrunners Greg Coolidge and Kirk Ward fold an obscene amount of story and action into a satisfying package that never overstays its welcome. By making the middle installment particularly character-heavy, The Continental holds its most important cards to the chest just in time to go out in a spectacular blaze of glory. As the villain, Gibson has a blast camping it up, whilst Woodell and Allain steal the show. As an ensemble piece, nearly every major player has a significance to the larger whole, including KD (Mishel Prada, Riverdale) who seems rather useless at first.
The title treatment evokes stylish 70s graphics, while the overall style of The Continental harkens back to ensemble-heavy movies like Smokin’ Aces or Last Action Hero. That The Continental feels more in tune with 80s and 90s action sensibilities than that of John Wick may be problematic to some, but for this viewer, it held the exact right amount of dark humor and sadistic violence for my liking. I had a total blast with a show that didn’t need to exist, and actually left craving more from the world. Whether this means further stories with these exact characters, or exploring different iterations of The Continental in various cities, I am game for anything they want to throw our way. The holy grail of action franchises has officially hatched a near-perfect spin-off worthy of its place in the expanding world of John Wick.
Book a stay at The Continental for three weeks, as the first room becomes available Friday, September 22nd, only on Peacock.