The Continental expands the John Wick universe in a refreshing way
The miniseries sees familiar favourites in uncharted territory for the action franchise.
When John Wick premiered in 2014, few could have foreseen the cultural impact it would have, with each instalment in the film series outgrossing the previous – culminating in a $400 million gross for 2023’s Chapter 4.
The series is, of course, set to expand further with the Ana De Armas-led Ballerina, which will also feature the likes of Keanu Reeves and Ian McShane.
Before then, we have the first small-screen project in the franchise, The Continental, which focuses on the early days of the hotel’s eventual manager Winston Scott (portrayed by McShane in the films and here by Colin Woodell), as he is drawn into a conflict with the hotel’s '70s proprietor, Cormac, played by Mel Gibson.
The 1970s setting helps to significantly differentiate the series from its film predecessors, which are set in the present day, featuring an assortment of hitmen using various Continental sites to prepare for their missions.
The New York depicted here is an unglamorous one, grimy and brimming with street-level crime, with The Continental itself a far cry from the classier establishment Winston and his trusted concierge, Charon, will come to run.
We see many links and references to events that occurred in the '70s, with the Winter of Discontent in the UK and the rise of the Mafia to power in New York being influences on the show.
Winston is initially based in the UK, and there are a number of references to pop culture icons of the era - including David Bowie and The Who.
This extends to the soundtrack, which choreographs many of its action sequences to some of the best-known hits of the decade, from the likes of Harry Nilsson, James Brown and more, opening with Donna Summer’s I Feel Love.
One of the most obvious references to the late '70s is the frequent mention of the Vietnam War and how it impacted several of the characters. This is an interesting shift from the films, which rarely mention real-world events or politics, and are often less grounded.
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The social issues of the day are best explored through newcomers Miles (Hubert Point-Du Jour) and Lou (Jessica Allain) and their family Dojo, which comes to blows with other businesses in Chinatown, reflecting racial tensions between several communities in the Big Apple.
Again, this is something left unexplored in the films, and could be a virtue of the lengthy runtimes of the episodes, with each one coming in at around 90 minutes.
In a sense, The Continental feels less like an assassin show and more a story about the dynamic between various groups in New York City. That said, the action is still breathless and retains the energy of the films, showing the involvement of creators Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (credited as executive producers).
We also see a younger Charon – brought so memorably to life by the late Lance Reddick in the films, with Ayomide Adegun filling those big shoes here – working under the tutelage of Cormac and having his first interactions with Winston, who he will work so memorably alongside in later years.
We find out more about his past, family and motivations for coming to New York and working at The Continental.
While Winston features prominently in all four Wick films, we don’t know much about his background, and the series fills much of this in, largely focused on the '70s - but flashing back several times to his childhood with his brother Frankie (Ben Robson). The pair’s relationship is a major driving factor here, and provides motivation for his involvement in later events.
Beyond Winston and Charon, we see references to several institutions from the films. The High Table, with whom John is frequently at odds, is represented through Katie McGrath’s Adjudicator. The shadowy organisation is a more peripheral presence at this stage, but still shows their influence and how closely they are monitoring the situation.
Additionally, The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) is a major player in three of the Wick films, and the earlier days of that operation are shown, along with its indifference to Cormac and his running of The Continental.
Whether or not it continues beyond this limited series, The Continental serves its purpose of expanding the world of John Wick and its inhabitants showing the evolution of the titular institution and those who come to call it home. Tying it more to the culture and societal issues of the '70s helps give it a sense of place and time to feel truly different to the films.
It will be intriguing to see whether there are further forays into the small screen beyond this, with the film universe set to continue with Ballerina – although there are rumours of a fifth outing for Mr Wick himself.
The Continental: From the World of John Wick is available to stream on Prime Video from Friday 22nd September 2023. Sign up for Amazon Prime's 30-day free trial.
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