It’s hard to have a prequel that hits the same mark as the core material, but a few have done it. House of the Dragon is a recent hit, while Yellowstone has all types of prequels. Unfortunately, the John Wick universe has not yet had such luck.
The John Wick prequel The Continental debuts on Peacock this weekend, though, without Keanu Reeves as the leading hitman, it seems like the franchise doesn’t have the same magic. The series, starring Colin Woddell, Ayomide Adegun, and Mel Gibson (yeah, that guy) follows the early days of the titular hotel and Cormac’s rise to power in New York way back in the 70s. Early reviews call the prequel series a bit misguided, which is a lot to say about a series revolving around so, so much violence.
Of the many (negative) reviews, most were centered around Mel Gibson’s spotty history, which seemed to affect the rest of the viewing experience, as brought up by Alan Sepinwall at Rolling Stone:
Yes, Mel Gibson was once one of the biggest stars in the world. But that was a long time ago, before he exposed himself as a virulent hater of women, Black people, and Jews. And where once he was a tremendous physical presence whose facility with on-screen would have made him a perfect fit for this franchise, he’s now in his late 60s and not as fluid of motion. Mostly, he’s here to speak in a cartoonish Noo Yawk accent and bug his eyes out a lot as Cormac grows more and more furious about each failure of his men to stop Winston’s plans. Given that the last hit movie where he was the primary onscreen draw was Signs, which came out 21 years ago, there are any number of actors who could do what Gibson does here without the baggage
The Verge also made a similar point:
For the most part, McShane has been able to get by playing Winston as essentially a heightened, more melodramatic version of himself. But Gibson’s attempt at taking the same approach to Cormac consistently falls flat both because of the actor’s personal scandals and because of how The Continental frames Cormac as the kind of villain who sees other people — particularly people of color — as beneath him or things to be owned and traded
The Continental’s table is set quite nicely and filled with a series of performances that would have been more than strong enough to carry each of the miniseries’ three hour-and-a-half-long episodes without his assistance. But rather than doing the sensible thing and steering clear of any unforced errors The Continental puts a big one front and center to stunningly disastrous effect.
While there were qualms with the casting, it seems like the plot is just as unlikable. Deadline:
The story is daft and the resolutions often neglect their own setups, but that’s bullseye on-brand for Wickworld. There are some moral dilemmas encountered in the hallways as a younger and vengeance-seeking Winston Scott (Colin Woodell) tries to take over the iconic establishment, but The Continental is primarily a gritty and swagger-filled romp, as it should be.
There are flashes of Wickian irreverence here and there, though setting a violent beatdown to an upbeat pop song loses its charm the umpteenth time around. But The Continental still comes off like a grave misunderstanding of what enthusiasts might want from a “John Wick” without John Wick.
The Continental significantly miscalculates the scope it needs to tell its David and Goliath story. Even four movies deep, the John Wick films keep most of the action tied to John’s perspective, making room for occasional check-ins with Winston or the villains’ camps to keep the plot moving. The Continental features no less than five focal point characters, which the narrative bounces between with the intention of deepening the bench of those with grievances against the erratic Cormac and providing Winston a crack squad to take him down. But few of these satellite storylines feel truly important or emotionally resonant
Unfortunately, as The Continental progresses, it rarely reaches the highs of that opening scene. The show quickly falls into explosion-heavy scenes with brief fights sprinkled throughout until we reach a finale that cranks things up to eleven. It’s an intentional approach to how the narrative is crafted, but it leads to lulls throughout. Thankfully, there are plenty of other things to keep your attention.
So many sloppy splits from what made the films special dooms The Continental. It stumbles toward an inept, non-ending, where there’s plenty of story still to tell if a successful run demands more seasons, yet not enough resolution to make what you just saw feel meaningful. While anything could once again happen, a Wick-less John Wick may just be too crazy to work.
Is the series worth your time? Maybe not. The good news? You can stream the other John Wick installments on Peacock instead!