John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum hits theaters this week. Get your tickets here!
Watching Keanu Reeves’ John Wick check into the Continental for the first time is an unforgettable moment. Wick’s prowess as an assassin has been talked up by the late Michael Nyqvist’s ruthless, terrified crime lord Viggo Tarasov. And it has been demonstrated by Wick single-handedly wiping out the heavily-armed kill team Viggo sent after him. But when Wick checks into a hotel whose clientele consists entirely of the deadliest individuals in the world, there is only one thing to say. To quote Viggo and his dingbat of a son Iosef (Alfie Allen), “Oh.” John Wick is not merely a skilled assassin who is feared by his former employer. He’s part of a much wider world, a shadow New York where the business of death is not just professional, it’s a full-blown community. And within this community, to say that John Wick is well-regarded is to say that the Titanic is damp.
However surprised Lance Reddick’s Charon, Ian McShane’s Winston and their staff are to see John grace their doorstep years into retirement, they are genuinely delighted to see him. Dreadful though the circumstances of John’s homecoming (and those of his unexpectedly sudden return in John Wick: Chapter 2) are, he is welcomed with genuine care and warmth. While Winston, Charon and company’s care for John is personal, it is also a matter of business. The Continental – with its codes of conduct and impeccable sense of style – is one of the most fun and fascinating parts of the John Wick movies’ inverted world. And a big part of what makes it such is its dedication to maintaining its clients’ humanity and stability.
This is not to say the Continental aims to discourage its guests from plying their bloody trade (provided they refrain from doing so on hotel grounds) – it is not filled with signs saying “Have you thought about finishing that Godzilla model you started last November instead?” But it does insist on creating a space where the world’s assassins (and other goons of varying sorts) have an opportunity to sit down and think, to approach their jobs with care, and maybe even relax a bit.
The Continental’s services range from the unique (very few hotels keep a weapons expert and customizer on staff) to the commonplace (while their laundry service cannot salvage a blood-soaked suit, they are apparently quite good otherwise). The reason behind offering both? They help keep the international assassin community healthy. To avail themselves of the Continental’s services, an assassin must agree to abide by the organization’s code of conduct. This code encourages professionalism. Many of the Continental’s guest services are dedicated to enabling its clientele to do their job as efficiently and skillfully as possible. It also encourages a clear delineation between a guest’s work and their self. John Wick, for example, does not come to the Continental to do work. He comes to the Continental because he has work to do.
In terms of pure creature comforts, the Continental’s locations are luxurious, welcoming and provide opportunities for their clients to do things entirely unrelated to their practice of the simple art of murder. The bars are well-stocked, and its bartenders are friendly. The cooking staff is world-class, and enjoys experimenting to the point that, per Riccardo Scamarcio’s Santino “a man can stay here a long time and never eat the same meal twice.” Live music is a regular feature for those who enjoy it, and space can always be found for those seeking a quiet conversation. Should something go wrong, Charon and the Continental staff can be counted on to attend to it quickly and compensate the person wronged for whatever trouble they may have run into.
The result of the Continental’s set-up is a community that is remarkably stable and healthy for being almost entirely comprised of ne’er-do-wells. Winston maintains this stability through the strict enforcement of his rules and codes. In his mind, these are what differentiate the Continental’s community from any given band of creeps. He provides both services that encourage professionalism amongst his clients and a space where they can comfortably unwind and set aside killing for a short time. Thus, Chapter 2’s Continental in Rome both requires and gives John and his nemesis Cassian (Common) a chance to talk things out. There cannot be a peaceful resolution to their battle, but the talk does at least help them understand each other better.
Those who break the Continental’s rules, whether they be a mercenary sadist like Adrianne Palicki’s Perkins or John Wick himself, are swiftly punished. Rules and codes mean nothing if they are not enforced, and imposing consequences for violating them helps to maintain both the Continental’s stability and its reputation.
And, on a strictly interpersonal level, the Continental offers a space for folks who like spending time with each other to do just that. If you’re an assassin and you need a favor from a pal (i.e. dog-sitting) it’s nice to have somewhere where you’re pretty sure they can be found. The Continental is a place where work can be set-up with care and precision. It’s a place where a fight gets tabled in favor of a conversation. It’s a place where everyone knows the score. It’s a place that understands that even those who can pile their dead high need somewhere they can live a little. It’s a terrific idea, and it’s one of the best parts of the John Wick series’ world-building.