Mel Gibson as Cormac in 'The Continental'

Gee, Maybe Casting Mel Gibson in the ‘John Wick’ Spinoff Was a Bad Idea

The Continental, the new limited series based on the John Wick franchise, hits Peacock on September 22. Early reviews of the prequel/spinoff are in and … it turns out that casting noted antisemite, racist, misogynist, and alleged abuser Mel Gibson as a violent criminal in a series centered heavily around guns was maybe not the best idea. Who could have possibly seen this coming?????? Is there a publicist in the house?

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The Continental is the first of Lionsgate’s attempts to expand the John Wick franchise, which also includes the upcoming Ballerina, starring Ana de Armas. When it was first announced, The Continental sounded like a solid idea for a spinoff: Set at the eponymous chain of hotels for assassins and various members of the criminal underworld, the series takes place in an alternate 1970s and follows a young Winston Scott as he becomes proprietor of the New York branch of The Continental. Played in the films by Ian McShane, Winston, with his sharp tongue and even sharper suits, has made himself indispensable to both John Wick and his namesake franchise. Between the cool period setting and the world-building potential of its premise, The Continental had all the makings of a fun action series. Lionsgate even tapped Albert Hughes (who co-directed Menace II Society and Dead Presidents with his brother, Allen) and TV vet Charlotte Brändström (Outlander, The Witcher, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power) to direct the John Wick spinoff, indicating a commitment to making sure this series did not suck a full bag of eggs.

And then came the casting announcement: Mel Gibson would be appearing in the series as Cormac, a gangster and father figure to young Winston, played by Colin Woodell. Gibson? In this economy? Sure, he staged a soft comeback in 2016 with Hacksaw Ridge, a war movie that basically turns the Vietnam sequence in Forrest Gump into a full-length feature. Given that description, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the movie netted multiple Oscar nominations. Though his work behind the camera earned acclaim, audiences haven’t exactly been itching to see Mel Gibson return to acting. In the years since his highly publicized 2006 DUI arrest (during which he was recorded making antisemitic remarks) and the 2010 court proceedings regarding the dissolution of his relationship with Oksana Grigorieva (during which audio leaked of Gibson making racist remarks and wishing sexual assault upon his ex, who also accused the actor of physical abuse), Gibson has been relegated to roles in Mark Wahlberg movies and action dramas that barely register with mainstream audiences. Not to mention Dragged Across Concrete, his collaboration with cinematic libertarian edgelord S. Craig Zahler.

Which brings us to The Continental. While several shows have struggled to find a vocal fanbase during the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike—with stars unable to promote their work through interviews and appearances—it’s possible that the John Wick prequel might’ve been a decent hit. Almost every review of the series cites Gibson as a Problem. Even critics who largely enjoyed The Continental otherwise have a hard time overcoming Gibson’s outsized performance. In her review for The Hollywood Reporter, Angie Han writes:

In a vacuum, Gibson might be a perfectly reasonable choice of household name to play the scenery-chewing villain whose intensity outpaces his actual screen time. But The Continental does not exist in a vacuum. It’s being released into a reality where Gibson’s history of racist, misogynistic, antisemitic, abusive behavior has been well documented. In that reality, the sight of Gibson hurling cruel insults or unleashing his violent temper is hardly the stuff of escapist action fantasy. His presence lends a sour note that many viewers will find outright intolerable — which defeats the purpose of casting such a recognizable face to begin with. The Continental is otherwise a decent start to John Wick’s expansion plans.

In the opening of her review for Variety, Alison Herman cites Gibson as the least of the series’ problems—a brutal knock:

I’ll give The Continental this: of all the reasons the John Wick prequel frustrates, underwhelms and disappoints, the involvement of Mel Gibson barely manages to rank. That, at least, is a major accomplishment.

Alan Sepinwall rendered his verdict on Gibson in a footnote for his Rolling Stone review:

Yes, Mel Gibson was once one of the biggest stars in the world. But that was a long time ago, before he exposed himself as a virulent hater of women, Black people, and Jews. And where once he was a tremendous physical presence whose facility with on-screen action would have made him a perfect fit for this franchise, he’s now in his late 60s and not as fluid of motion. Mostly, he’s here to speak in a cartoonish Noo Yawk accent and bug his eyes out a lot as Cormac grows more and more furious about each failure of his men to stop Winston’s plans. Given that the last hit movie where he was the primary onscreen draw was Signs, which came out 21 years ago, there are any number of actors who could do what Gibson does here without the baggage. Albert Brooks has effectively played criminals and sociopaths in his later career, and he can make bug eyes with the best of them, you know?  

The Daily Beast‘s Nick Schager calls the series “borderline unwatchable” in his review, which echoes some of the aforementioned concerns with this revelation:

And did I mention that, on top of all its mistakes, it co-stars famously intolerant Mel Gibson as a villain who, at one point, viciously murders a gay man to keep him from his beloved?

Yikes. Listen, no one expects Mel Gibson to devolve into a puddle of primordial goo and pour himself into a sewer (unless …?), but if you’re going to put this man to work, at least have the practical sense to avoid casting him as a violent psychopath. Sure, he brings a certain lived-in experience to the role, but so does Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, and they still cast Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár.

(featured image: Peacock)


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Author
Britt Hayes
Britt Hayes (she/her) is an editor, writer, and recovering film critic with over a decade of experience. She has written for The A.V. Club, Birth.Movies.Death, and The Austin Chronicle, and is the former associate editor for ScreenCrush. Britt's work has also been published in Fangoria, TV Guide, and SXSWorld Magazine. She loves film, horror, exhaustively analyzing a theme, and casually dissociating. Her brain is a cursed tomb of pop culture knowledge.