This week marks the premiere of The Continental, Peacock’s new John Wick spinoff set decades before the events of the franchise’s first film. The three-part limited series follows a younger version of Ian McShane’s Winston Scott (played by Colin Woodell) as he rises to power within the franchise’s underground world of assassins and strange codes of honor. To put that another way: It’s Lionsgate’s first attempt at seeing whether the John Wick series can exist beyond its original four films.
Early responses to The Continental have been mixed so far, but one could argue that the quality of the TV show itself ultimately matters little. Regardless of whether it’s good or bad, its creation speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of its producers about what makes the John Wick franchise so special. Spoiler alert: It isn’t, and has never been, its quirky underground society.
The John Wick franchise has never been praised for its originality. As fun as the fictional world featured throughout it may be, the series has always told a fairly straightforward and familiar revenge story. The things that truly lifted up 2014’s John Wick were its impeccable action choreography and Keanu Reeves’ soulful, admirably committed lead performance. In the franchise’s sequels, director Chad Stahelski’s eye for action filmmaking only got better and better — as is clear in basically every one of John Wick: Chapter 4’s gargantuan set pieces.
But Reeves’ performance has always been the heart and soul of the John Wick franchise and what has lifted it to such astonishing heights. As the series’ central anti-hero, Reeves is as physically commanding as he’s ever been, but he’s also emotionally vulnerable in a way that perfectly suits the actor’s still-waters-run-deep persona. It’s Reeves’ go-for-broke, leave-nothing-on-the-table performance that makes sure you feel every gunshot and punch thrown throughout the first four John Wick movies.
The role Reeves has played in the success of the franchise can’t be overstated, and the numerous John Wick knockoffs that have been made over the years are proof enough of that fact. Whether it be Hotel Artemis, Kate, or Bullet Train, most of the franchise’s imitators have failed because they’ve focused so much on ripping off the quirkiness of its secret criminal society that they’ve failed to make sure any of their leads are as likable or compelling as Reeves’ Wick. Conversely, the series’ two best knockoffs, 2021’s Nobody and 2017’s Atomic Blonde, have succeeded because they’ve centered around stars (Bob Odenkirk and Charlize Theron) who are actually capable of being as commanding onscreen as Reeves.
The future of Lionsgate’s in-development John Wick spinoffs may very well depend on the success of The Continental. But whether the series is a popular hit or not, there’s no ignoring the fact that it lacks one of the most fundamental elements of the very franchise it’s meant to expand. As much as Hollywood may want audiences to forget this now, movie stars do still matter, and the John Wick series has always been a star vehicle for Reeves.
Therefore, if Lionsgate really wants to replicate the success of the first four John Wick films, it’ll have to work with a movie star who is capable of grounding the franchise the same way that its original lead always has.