As legions of “John Wick” fans around the globe know, the luxury chain of Continental hotels is accessible only to a certain lethal category of clientele — and while you’re there, you must adhere to a very strict and specific set of rules that normally includes a ban on conducting business, particularly of the violent kind. The most famous and enduring of the franchise is the Continental of New York, located in the Financial District of Manhattan and operated for decades by one Winston Scott, a dapper and intimidating character of mysterious origins.
What’s the deal with that guy, anyway? Can you imagine what Winston Scott must have been like as a boy and a young man?
That’s the brass elevator pitch for “The Continental: From the World of John Wick,” a gritty and ultra-violent and stylishly directed limited series on Peacock consisting of three nearly feature-length episodes set primarily in 1970s Manhattan. With Episodes 1 and 3 directed by Albert Hughes (co-director with his brother Allen of films such as “From Hell” and “The Book of Eli”) and Episode 2 helmed by Charlotte Brändström (episodes of “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” and “The Witcher”), “The Continental” is a worthy prequel with suitably gothic production design, brilliantly executed stunt work and some fantastically timed needle drops, from “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer to “Roundabout” by Yes to “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty to James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing/Release the Pressure.”
First episode available Friday on Peacock, with remaining episodes posting Sept. 29 and Oct. 6.
If you’ve never seen a “John Wick” movie, the series works as a standalone story, but there are plenty of Easter Eggs for the hardcore fans as well. Set in a dark, grimy, seemingly always cloudy and virtually lawless New York City, “The Continental” features an increasingly impressive performance by Colin Woodell as the young Winston, who is drawn into a blood-soaked web of intrigue after his estranged older brother Frankie (an electric Ben Robson) betrays Cormac (Mel Gibson, in full crazy mode), an unhinged sociopath who runs the Continental with his new aide Charon by his side. (Ayomide Adegun portrays the younger version of the character who was so memorably played by the late Lance Reddick in the “John Wick” movies.) Winston eventually enlists the help of a number of allies, including a younger version of the body disposal expert Uncle Charlie (Peter Greene), to plan a takeover of the Continental.
At times “The Continental” nearly overwhelms us with a dizzying array of new characters and subplots. Mishel Prada shines as KD, a New York City police detective with a personal reason for tracking down Frankie, while Nhung Kate is a force as Frankie’s wife Yen, who met Frankie when he was on a tour of duty in Vietnam. Hubert Point-Du Jour and Jessica Allain are sibling arms dealers, while Katie McGrath is The Adjudicator, who looks like she’s on her way to an “Eyes Wide Shut” convention, what with the get-up and the mask.
We’d also be remiss not to mention Hansel and Gretel (Mark Musashi and Marina Mazepa), twin assassins who apparently never speak but are really, really good at their jobs. In fact, just about everybody we encounter along the way is an expert at punching, kicking, stabbing, choking, shooting, slicing, dicing and using anything handy as a weapon.
“The Continental” does a fine job of expanding the mythology of the “John Wick” world, but it’s still primarily about the inspired lunacy of the extended action sequences. Heads will roll.