“The Continental: From the World of John Wick,” Peacock's prequel to the movie series, is a hit-and-miss effort that digs into the wider universe of Keanu Reeves’ iconic hitman, though it proudly leans into the films’ penchant for brutal, bone-crunching action and a whole lot of guns.
The three-part miniseries (★★ out of four; streaming weekly on Fridays) is a 1970s-set origin story for Wick’s chief ally Winston Scott, the suave manager of a luxury hotel for assassins played by Ian McShane in the films. The Continental is also home to some of the most intriguing “Wick” mythology, although the show disappointingly opts not to concern itself with much of that.
Instead, the throwback outing takes its sweet time figuring out what it should be, and is overstuffed with supporting characters, subplots and a mix of genres, from heist flick to police drama, before finding its groove courtesy of an extremely violent, movie-length finale.
Is it worth sticking around til then? Depends on how much of a “Wick”-phile you are.
In the Reeves movies, Winston – alongside best friend/concierge Charon (played by the late Lance Reddick) – runs the posh New York hub of a string of hotels connected to a shadowy guild for international killers known as the High Table. When “The Continental” begins 40 years earlier, however, Winston (Colin Woodell) is less powerful and connected, working as a London businessman, when he’s nabbed by goons and brought back by force to America.
Vicious crime boss Cormac O’Connor (Mel Gibson) is the Continental owner, and a criminal mentor to Winston and his older brother Frankie (Ben Robson) when they were kids. Frankie, a Vietnam vet, steals a valuable coin press – which cranks out the gold pieces used as currency by the High Table – and Cormac is under pressure from his bosses to get it back. So he orders Winston to find Frankie and bring back the item, or else.
At the same time, Winston begins to put together a crew of folks for a hostile takeover of the Continental. Among them: Yen (Nhung Kate), Frankie’s deadly love interest and a former Khmer Rouge soldier, and martial arts siblings Lou (Jessica Allain) and Miles (Hubert Point-Du Jour).
Unlike other movie spinoffs like Disney+’s “Star Wars” series or Netflix’s “Karate Kid” sequel “Cobra Kai,” much of “Continental” ventures too far afield of the franchise. Granted, said franchise consists mostly of Reeves murdering people in balletic action sequences, but it still deserves more than a generic crime show. Most of it might as well be "Law and Order: '70s Hitmen" if you take out the movie-related scenes, as when Winston goes to corners of New York City populated by “Wick” regulars or sparks a relationship with Charon (Ayomide Adegun), Cormac’s young right-hand man.
Adegun captures the same emotional complexity Reddick fabulously brought to the role; Gibson's performance is dull at first before he veers fully operatic and evil as the biblically bonkers Cormac; but Woodell falls well short of McShane's dangerous charm. Unlike the movies, “The Continental” fails to deliver on colorful killers, outside of silent sibling weirdos Hansel (Mark Musashi) and Gretel (Marina Mazepa). Katie McGrath’s masked Adjudicator, an enforcer for the High Table, is the series’ coolest-looking personality, yet she's underutilized, and the series misses an opportunity to reveal enticing bits about Wick’s enigmatic foes from the films.
In other ways, "Continental" embraces its “John Wick” jam, from themes of revenge to action-packed sequences. A few duds, like a lackluster car chase early on in the show, are offset by a dynamite phone-booth fistfight and a final episode directed by Albert Hughes (“Menace II Society,” “The Book of Eli”) that's packed with gnarly brawls and bloody carnage.
As a bruising and bullet-ridden retro tale, its aim is true. And if you love the hits of the '70s, get ready for all your favorite needle drops. But as an essential addition to the “Wick” canon, “The Continental” is more of a misfire.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'The Continental' review: Peacock 'John Wick' prequel is gory misfire