Such is the way of things these days that, mere moments after Keanu Reeves bows out of the John Wick franchise, the world of stone-cold assassins he departed has expanded in the first of what no doubt won’t be the last miniseries to come on Prime Video. If you’re going to further explore its amoral corners (and of course they were), then the obvious place to start is by checking into the glimmering crown of this universe, The Continental.
The rather unwieldly titled three-part miniseries The Continental: From the World of John Wick harks back to the grottier mean streets of a litter-strewn New York in the ‘70s (and further back again) to reveal just how it is that Ian McShane’s Winston Scott came to take charge of this (occasionally suspended) safe harbour for all manner of heat-packing miscreants.
A black-and-white opening sequence set in 1955 establishes that he and his older brother Frankie – 1899’s Fflyn Edwards and newcomer Ben Robinson, respectively – got in a bit of a scrape. The older lad went down for it, for which Winston carries a lot of guilt, served in ‘Nam and is no longer in touch with his wee bro.
The Flight Attendant’s Colin Woodell ably steps into the adult Winstons’s dapper shoes, with something about his eyes easily convincing as a younger McShane. A smart lad, he’s swapped the Big Apple for a dubious car park-building pitch over the ditch in London when we first meet this would-be business magnate attempting to go straight-ish.
A vaguely Bond-like mover and shaker, he delivers the first big laugh of the show’s many darkly comic beats when he’s about to seduce a married woman. She asks, ‘Well, what are you waiting for?’ only for him to respond, ‘I haven’t finished my drink’. In fairness, she gives as good as she gets: ‘Tick tock.’
Jessica Allain and Hubert Point-Du Jour in The COntinental: From the World of John Wick. Image: Prime Video.
But then a grown-up Frankie (Vikings’ Ben Robson) decides to hit The Continental in a visually visceral heist set during a New Year’s Eve bacchanal that puts Babylon to shame. Fizzing from a blood-red dance floor down to the murky train-rattled subway below and up again via the vault that contains the ancient coin press MacGuffin that pumps out the tokens killers trade for a room, it’s exhilarating. As is Frankie’s bone-crunching battle down the stairs and out a window as he makes his break for freedom.
Paying the price
We all know by now that, unless your name’s Wick, a bet against The Continental is risky business, which brings us back to Winston. Promptly abducted in another show-stopping sequence and whisked back across the Atlantic unconscious, he’s summoned by The Continental’s current big boss (below the High Table), Cormac.
Played by the exceedingly un-cancelled Mel Gibson with a pantomime snarl so broad you could forgo the factor 50 by wearing it, it’s easy to loathe him. When he deploys the term ‘I’m hobo-phobic,’ you can’t help but wonder if this is actually a roast by showrunners Greg Coolidge, Shawn Simmons and Kirk Ward, all of whom worked on Prime show Wayne.
With the High table breathing down Cormac’s neck – as fantastically expressed by Irish actor Katie McGrath’s creepy ceramic half-masked mouthpiece, the Adjudicator, and her kilted henchman – he wants Winston to locate and rat out his bro.
Jeremy Bobb in The Continental: From the World of John Wick. Image: Prime Video.
Gibson’s theatrics jar in a show that’s mostly focused on gritty, street-level world-building, but it kinda works in that gar-chomping gangster way. With the air of an even more twisted Fagin, he plucks poor kids like Frankie and Winston and turns them to his dirty work. That includes Charon, the concierge formerly depicted by the late, great Lance Reddick and now by charismatic newcomer Ayomide Adegun.
Playing opposite Cormac’s monstrosity highlights Adegun’s nuanced work. Brought into the maw of The Continental, he’s hoping that by selling his soul to this devil, he can bargain safe passage for his father back in Nigeria. The tantalising promise of a burgeoning connection with in-house musician Thomas (Samuel Blenkin) layers further depth into his now implicitly queer backstory.
That’s the beauty of this punch-drunk prequel admirably corralled by directors Charlotte Brändström and Albert Hughes. While this is Winston’s backstory, The Continental builds a brilliant team around him, exploring pockets of the surrounding city from Chinatown to the Bronx. Jessica Allain is magnetic as Pam Grier-channelling street fighter Lou – a Coffy poster plays a key role – especially in a fierce phone box fight. She and her brother Miles (Hubert Point-Du Jour) have an armoury that just might be up to storming the Continental.
Vietnamese actor Nhung Kate also rocks as Frankie’s kick-arse wife, while both Adam Shapiro and Ray McKinnon bring the requisite amount of sass-talking humour to pull us back from the show’s bleakest stuff, like the twisted killer duo of Hansel and Gretel (Mark Musashi and Marina Mazepa) Cormac mercilessly deploys against the Scotts. Mishel Prada is also top-notch as a gung-ho detective steadfastly ignoring the advice of her schlubby partner (Jeremy Bobb) to steer well clear of the hotel.
Mishel Prada in The Continental: From the World of John Wick. Image: Prime Video.
It’s a wild ride following their intersecting stories to the Continental’s door, and judging by the prime cut soundtrack, impressively appointed sets and snazzy costume work, Amazon dug deep on this one, perhaps trading in a few of Cormac’s gold coins.
You won’t be disappointed if you’re just here for the Wick mayhem. With enough expertly choreographed fisticuffs and car chases in the first two eps to keep you going, all hell breaks loose in the frenetic finale. As Winston says: ‘I need guns. Lots of guns.’
The Continental: From the World of John Wick premieres on Prime Video on 22 September.