REVIEW: The Continental is a must-watch for fans of John Wick and The Raid
It is rare to see action this good in a TV show.
The fact that The Continental exists at all is a bit of a miracle. An epic, three-part prequel spin-off from a franchise that begin in 2014 from a movie with a teeny $20 million budget. Those movies exploded out to this year's John Wick: Chapter 4, which banked over $432 million worldwide, and will also be giving us a big screen spin-off (titled Ballerina, fronted by Ana De Armas, arriving in June 2024). All of this from a movie about a lonely man who got revenge on the men who killed his dog.
But back to The Continental, which takes place decades before the events of John Wick, and introduces us to much younger version of Winston (played in the movies by Ian McShane, and in this show by Colin Woodell). Set against grim and grimy 1970s New York, the hitman's safe haven hotel is run Cormac (Mel Gibson), a ruthless and power-hungry psychopath willing to do anything to keep his position of power.
When Winston's brother Frankie (Ben Robson) steals a coin press from Cormac's hotel safe, it sets off a chain reaction of events that will have some of the most fearsome and powerful people working within and for The High Table descend upon New York to fix the problem, which is also how Winston gets dragged into Cormac's line of sight.
The show dives further into the murky alternative world hinted at here and there throughout the John Wick movies, where things make some sense but not too much sense - how much is a single gold coin worth? Enough for a night's stay at the hotel, but also enough... for one drink? That can't be right. Previously, we've not been asked to think too much about it, because it was all background dressing for Keanu Reeves stylishly shooting hundreds of people in the head. And that is where The Continental's biggest pro AND biggest con arises...
The Continental is basically three movies disguised as a three-part TV series
The mini-series is three episodes, and each episode is actually the length of a brisk movie - they are 86 minutes, 79 minutes and 97 minutes long - with two of the episodes helmed by acclaimed director Albert Hughes (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents). The stunt work is once again co-ordinated by 87Eleven (the same team behind John Wick, Nobody, Bullet Train, Atomic Blonde, etc), and the action sequences are gloriously inventive and properly violent.
However, anyone expecting the non-stop action of a John Wick movie might be surprised by The Continental's second episode, where things slow to a crawl in order to fill out a lot of plot additions for the way too many characters. There are entire subplots involving run-down dojo owners, the Chinese mafia and undercover cops that feel excess to requirements, even as they do sometimes involve themselves in some great action sequences themselves.
Fans came to The Continental to spend more time in The Continental and its unique set of hotel guests, and after the explosively fun table-setting of the first episode, the somewhat drab second episode kills the momentum. Thankfully, things take a massive turn for the better for the third and final episode, which sets the action almost entirely within the walls of the hotel, and the action and the overall vibe feels like it is borrowing as much from The Raid as it is from John Wick.
The final episode also lets Gibson off the chain for his villainous performance, and the troublesome actor hasn't been this magnetic on-screen in about two decades.
The first episode of The Continental arrives on Prime Video on Friday 22 September, with the second episode dropping on Friday 29 September, and the third and final episode arriving on Friday 6 October.
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