The Continental, review: Amazon’s John Wick spin-off is fast-paced, ludicrous fun

Mel Gibson stars in John Wick spin-off The Continental
Mel Gibson stars in John Wick spin-off The Continental - James Dimmock/Amazon Prime Video

Mel Gibson’s biggest success was directing a gory retelling of the Crucifixion in The Passion of the Christ. So it’s fitting that Gibson should himself be subject to a bloody resurrection as one of the stars of The Continental: From The World of John Wick (Amazon Prime Video). As the laboured title outlines, Prime Video’s new mini-series is a spin-off of the action franchise starring Keanu Reeves as a hitman in a natty suit. Yet it’s also a continuation of the saga of Gibson, the actor who managed to get himself cancelled before cancel culture was even a thing.

He leaps head-first into the fray, his performance popping up with pent-up energy. But if a testament to his ability to survive the slings and arrows of public disapproval, The Continental is hardly a showcase for Gibson’s thespian chops. He plays Cormac O’Connor – not an obscure early 20th-century Irish poet, but the custodian of the eponymous Continental, a New York hotel that doubles as a refuge for hired killers.

In the John Wick movies, the hotel is the domain of Ian McShane’s dapper Winston Scott. This Continental is set in the Seventies, when a young Winston (Colin Woodell) is summoned to New York from London. His wayward brother Frankie (Ben Robson) has stolen a priceless heirloom from Cormac and his trigger-happy minions, including a his ’n’ hers duo of psychotic twins with matching page-boy haircuts. Winston’s mission is to track down Frankie and save him from Cormac.

Colin Woodell as Winston Scott in The Continental: From the World of John Wick
Colin Woodell as Winston Scott in The Continental: From the World of John Wick - Katalin Vermes/Amazon Prime Video

Gibson clocks in with a hysterically shouty turn as a hotel manager side-lining in organised crime. It’s been a while since he has had a high-profile acting role and his maniacally mugging Cormac contains more ham than a pulled-pork stall at a farmer’s market. Bulldozing through lines such as “I come from the marrow of the almighty” and “you can dress up a pig and can’t make him jig”, Gibson doesn’t so much grab the part with both hands as rugby-tackle it and knee it repeatedly in the groin.

While Gibson gurns, The Continental does its best to be a mash-up of a blaxploitation movie, Hong Kong action romp and spiritual successor to the Wick blockbusters. Spread across three feature-length episodes, it never slows down. Devotees of the Wick flicks will enjoy the breathless pacing. They will also relish the bloody “gun-fu” action, invariably involving dozens of heavily armed protagonists shooting one another in the face.

Amid the gore and gunpowder are lots of Easter eggs for Wick fans. Winston’s heartbreaking origin as an orphan goes some way towards explaining his later steadfast loyalty to the underdog Wick. We meet Cormac’s side-kick Charon – Ayomide Adegun playing a character portrayed by the late Lance Reddick in the films. Riverdale’s Mishel Prada, meanwhile, features as a streetwise cop obsessed with The Continental.

It’s fast-paced, ludicrous fun, with Purge-star Woodell full of dapper charm as the young McShane. But, for better or worse, the driving force is Gibson, who puts in his most over-the-top appearance since Mad Max. In the process, he transforms The Continental into a bug-eyed, b-movie cheese-fest hewn in his gonzo image.

The Continental: From the World of John Wick is on Amazon Prime Video now