For those unfamiliar with the John Wick films, the famous Continental hotel is a syndicate of luxury hotels that serve as a place of refuge for the world’s most prolific assassins. Although it’s integral to the movies, hardly has it ever taken center stage — until now. Each iteration of the hotel is unique in its own way but they all follow the same rules. The Continental is a three part prequel to the John Wick films spearheaded by Keanu Reeves. In the limited series, Colin Woodell plays a younger version of Winston Scott (Ian McShane in the films) who gets dragged into the hellscape of 1970s New York City to face a past he thought he’d left behind. Winston charts a deadly course through the hotel’s mysterious underworld in a harrowing attempt to seize the hotel where he will eventually take his future throne.
The three part saga packs a punch, that’s for sure — with the amount of content they’re able to fill into just three, one hour(ish) long episodes. Naturally, this means they are made to feel like films made for the small screen. A lot of the original Wick team is signed onto this project, including John Wick producer and founder of Thunder Road Pictures Basil Iwanyk, Thunder Road’s President Erica Lee, as well as John Wick director Chad Stahelski.
Stahelski hand picked Albert Hughes to help direct the project that really gives it that polished feeling that Stahelski is known for with the Wick films while recognizing that, because of the setting, it’s essentially the humble beginnings of what Winston dedicated over four decades of his life building. The setting is at times highlighted through NYC’s lively nightlife but it’s quite possibly the least interesting aspect of the show considering half of the show takes place inside of the hotel anyway.
With the John Wick films already being established and well loved by its fans, the idea of branching out to give background to some of the IP’s most notable faces like Winston and Charon a much needed and deserved spotlight is intriguing, to say the least. Fresh off Max’s The Flight Attendant as the villainous assassin Buckley Ware/Feliks, Woodell one-hundred percent puts his all into his role as a young Winston. With the gap between ages in the films and the show, it’s clear Woodell had freedom to create a character wholly his own while also leaving in subtle nods to the Winston fans know and love (like the origins of the ascot!).
After the conclusion of The CW’s Supergirl, many fans have clamored for more Katie McGrath on their screens. McGrath joins the John Wick universe as an Adjudicator, a masked, enigmatic agent of The High Table. McGrath was inarguably tested in ways she hasn’t been before. A few of the characters (like Marina Mazepa’s Gretel, who we’ll discuss later in this review) rely on their bodies and facial expressions to do the talking and McGrath’s portrayal is no different. With half of her face basically out of commission due to the mask, she relies a lot on her tone and features to speak for her, but she does it so effortlessly.
Truthfully, the entire principal cast is a joy to watch as their stories are all interwoven into the hotel in one way or another. Ayomide Adegun’s Charon is possibly one of the best examples of this because there was so little known about him previously. It’s impossible to not want to root for him as he weaves in and out of the bustling melting pot that is New York City into the dark walls of The Continental hotel. It’s hard to replicate the charm that the late Lance Reddick had playing the fan-favorite character, but Adegun doesn’t need to try to replicate anything — he’s got it in spades.
One of the most interesting things about The Continental is just how impressive and diverse the female cast is. The women take up not just a large chunk of the call sheet but screen time as well, and at times their storylines truly carry the series in more ways than one. This is something the Wick team has taken pride in doing previously, most notably with Halle Berry’s Sofia Al-Azwar and Rina Sawayama’s Akira. The team are at least very aware of the pushback from a lot of fans to craft better stories for the women in the main universe. While it’s not a perfect solution, it’s definitely a start, especially with the Ballerina spin-off starring Ana de Armas looming.
Mishel Prada plays tenacious NYC detective KD who truly ties everything up so nicely. Jessica Allain’s Lou, Kate Nhung’s Yen, and Mazepa’s Gretel are so much more than pretty faces that can fight. It’s pretty much a given that if you’re tied to these movies, chances are you can at least brandish a weapon. Lou’s emotional arc is incredible to watch as she grapples with learning the truth about her family’s history while trying to stay out of that world by upholding her father’s code of ethics.
Yen is a character that goes from a for hire assassin to someone seeking love in its purest form to someone deeply traumatized, at no fault of her own. It’s hard not to be captivated by her on screen presence and it’s very easy to forget that you’re watching a performance given how natural and flawless she makes everything appear.
As for Gretel, she’s another character that relies strictly on her body to tell a story but as a contortionist she truly has no problem doing so. It’s a spectacle in itself but that’s what is so fun about John Wick — there’s so many avenues to play with in all of the characters — even with a coke snorting, sword-wielding assassin. It all just makes perfect sense somehow. (Only at The Continental hotel, am I right?)
The Continental is a fascinating exploration of the hotel at the center of the John Wick universe that fans have come to know and love. It definitely has enough to satisfy fans of the original films while also introducing a whole new crop of fans to the blockbuster action universe. If Avengers: Endgame was set in a world of assassins where the Avengers Tower instead served as a refuge for for-hire killers that have a perplexing fascination with a drug that turns them into the Marvel equivalent of Captain America, it would be The Continental.
The Continental three part saga premieres September 22 on Peacock.