Sure, going beyond “revenge for a dead dog” character motivation is a noble idea, but “The Continental” makes a chore out of setting two recently united brothers—the posh Winston (Colin Woodell, who nails the musicality of McShane’s voice) and his hot-head veteran brother Frankie (Ben Robson)—on a collision course with the father figure who made them violent men, Cormac (Mel Gibson, whose hammy fits of rage can be amusing). Cormac runs the New York assassin fortress known as the Continental and is assisted by the stoic Charon (Ayomide Adegun, doing a good Lance Reddick impression). When Frankie steals Cormac’s prized coin-press in an elaborate heist that begins Night One, he becomes a primary target. After Cormac’s first retaliation, making for one of the show’s few good twists, Winston decides it’s time for him to take over Cormac’s Continental.
To pull off this suicide mission, Winston enlists the help of Frankie’s war buddies Miles (Hubert Point-Du Jour) and Lemmy (Adam Shapiro), who co-run a dojo and gun stash in Chinatown with Miles’ sister, the gun-resistant Lou (Jessica Allain). They also receive key help in ass-kicking from Yen (Nhung Kate), Frankie’s wife whom he met while a soldier in Vietnam, moments after a bomb secretly strapped to her chest didn’t go off. And while Cormac’s men are on the prowl for Winston’s team, there’s another arc with a cop named KD (Mishel Prada), who follows from a distance what’s been going on at the Continental but doesn’t know exactly why she can’t just wander into the swanky hotel.
Albert Hughes and Charlotte Brandstrom direct the mini-series’ three episodes, inspired by ‘70s crime thrillers, and their greatest contribution to this world is recreating a moment in time. “The Continental” takes place in New York City in 1981 during the garbage strike, years after Vietnam, but with little psychological distance from it. The main characters are mostly combat-rattled veterans and immigrants seeking a safe perch in this world, the experiences of war informing their ability to kill and their loyalty to each other. But the imposition of real violence with the franchise’s bloody fantasy—a world that features kooky twin assassins who have bowl cuts—proves to be overwrought. This is a more “serious” story in the “John Wick” universe, but that doesn’t make it more exciting.