Wick-ish games

Published date26 September 2023
Publication titleSignal
LET’S be clear: the prime appeal of the surprise cinematic success that is the John Wick franchise (the most recent entry this year, John Wick 4, took $US426 million at the box office) has been good ol’ Keanu Reeves. His dedication to learning how to move and fight like someone who really could mow through 80 hapless action movie goons in an unbroken chain of gun-fu, all with a sort of Zen-like efficiency, is what has made each new film a “see it opening night” prospect for action film buffs

But a secondary layer of intrigue has been part of the fun, too; what’s with this crazy world of assassins? How is it they have this entire hotel to themselves? Why do they all exchange gold coins? What the heck is the “High Table”, if not just an inconvenient piece of kitchen furniture?

Prime’s new spinoff/prequel miniseries The Continental: From the World of John Wick, named (awkwardly) for that New York hotel for assassins that’s a key setting in the films, is shorn of the star power of Reeves — who probably needs to rest his 59-year-old bones after the punishing work of committing so many on-screen murders earlier in the year — so it’s those aspects of the films that it focuses on instead. It’s John Wick, but with the actual John Wick nowhere in sight. How you react to that one-sentence synopsis probably tells you if The Continental might be for you or not, but there is at least a bit of intrigue and style to be found in the whole exercise.

Latching on to the supporting character of Winston, played by Ian McShane in the films, the series takes us back to his younger days in the 1970s, before he was in the “managing a hotel used exclusively by assassins” game and more all about running real estate cons in London, which apparently require a bunch of decade-appropriate celebrity name-dropping. Played by Colin Woodell — who sounds a bit more American than Ian McShane, but channels his dapper vibe — he’s more a lover than a fighter in this period of his life.

Across the Atlantic though, his brother Frankie (Ben Robson) is deep in the Wick-world of that awkward colon-ised show title, living in a scuzzily old-school and mood-setting New York, where a garbage strike is on and the streets are as dirty as the cops. He’s working for the current manager of The Continental Cormac O’Connor, played by — oh, hello — Mel Gibson. How distracting the thoroughly cancelled Mr Gibson’s presence is here will be down to the preferences of the individual viewer, but as he’s been cast in...

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