Tower-ing Fiction #12: The Continental, John Wick franchise (2014- )

John Wick: Chapter 2 (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2017)

The successful gunplay-based John Wick franchise—at current count, three films, a comic-book series, and a prospective television series—focuses on the titular hitman John Wick, as he attempts to extricate himself from an increasingly convoluted system of contracts, markers, rival hitmen, and an arcane governing bureaucracy. Key to the world of these contract killers are a series of hotels known as The Continental, apparently with branches in most major cities worldwide.

In the first film, John Wick (dirs. Chad Stahelski & David Leitch, 2014), the New York City branch of The Continental is introduced, owned by the enigmatic Winston, his hotel serving as a sanctuary, governed by specific rules and prohibitions. Specifically, no business (ie, murders) can be conducted on the grounds of The Continental, which of course becomes a problem for Wick as the films progress.

The exteriors of the New York City Continental use the real-world 1 Wall Street Court (also known as the Beaver Building and once home to the Cocoa Exchange), a triangular building with a rounded façade facing the intersection of Wall, Pearl, and Beaver Streets.

Originally completed in 1904, 1 Wall Street Court resembles the iconic Flatiron Building but is only fifteen stories and some 205 feet tall. Built in a neo-Renaissance style and now primarily filled with condominiums and a sushi restaurant, the skyscraper is now dwarfed by its neighboring financial buildings, such as the fifty-story 60 Wall Street (two blocks away, housing the American headquarters of of Deutsche Bank) and the fifty-seven story 20 Exchange Plaza (a block west on Beaver Street, originally built to house the companies that formed CitiGroup).

In the John Wick universe, however, 1 Wall Street Court/The Continental is a not only a sanctuary for assassins, but it is also an even-changing site for a variety of dramatic discussions, fight scenes, and killings, appearing differently in each film.

 

We first see The Continential in John Wick (2014) when Wick pulls up to use its services. Other than a nondescript awning, featuring only a “C” and obscuring the Haru Sushi sign), the building appears fairly pedestrian, camouflaging the goings-on within.

John Wick (dirs. Chad Stahelski & David Leitch, 2014)

John Wick (dirs. Chad Stahelski & David Leitch, 2014)

As he will in all three films, Wick proceeds through a thin lobby (filmed in the Cunard Building) to meet the concierge, Charon, before heading up to his eighth-floor room above the main entrance.

John Wick (dirs. Chad Stahelski & David Leitch, 2014)

John Wick (dirs. Chad Stahelski & David Leitch, 2014)

John Wick (dirs. Chad Stahelski & David Leitch, 2014)

John Wick (dirs. Chad Stahelski & David Leitch, 2014)

He then heads down through the hotel into a basement club (complete with a band) to find Winston. And for the first film, that’s all we see of The Continental.

John Wick (dirs. Chad Stahelski & David Leitch, 2014)

John Wick (dirs. Chad Stahelski & David Leitch, 2014)

John Wick (dirs. Chad Stahelski & David Leitch, 2014)

In John Wick: Chapter 2 (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2017), Wick again returns to The Continental, meeting Charon and this time leaving his new dog safely with the concierge.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2017)

John Wick: Chapter 2 (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2017)

John Wick: Chapter 2 (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2017)

This time, Wick meets Winson in a lounge/reading room (filmed at The Jane Hotel), where he also will spill blood at the end of the film, rendering him (in the parlance of the John Wick franchise) excommunicado.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2017)

John Wick: Chapter 2 (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2017)

John Wick: Chapter 2 (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2017)

However, things are a bit off when we see The Continental’s rooftop, as we do mid-way through John Wick: Chapter 2. Wick emerges onto a rooftop garden where Winston advises him to honor his commitments. Notably, the doorway is flanked by Deco statutes, and the scene is prominently in the shadow of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, making this one of the rooftop gardens at Rockefeller Center (viewers might recognize these as where Spider-Man drops off Mary Jane in Spider-Man (dir. Sam Raimi, 2002)). This bit of visual incongruity will become the hallmark of The Continental in the next installment.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2017)

John Wick: Chapter 2 (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2017)

John Wick: Chapter 2 (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2017)

John Wick: Chapter 2 (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2017)

In John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019), The Continental receives some upgrades—odd, as the course of events for the three film is specifically called out as having taken place over the last few weeks…

The main entrance and lobby appear as they have previously, this time as the Adjudicator arrives to sort out Wick’s mess from the previous film.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

However, somewhere just off the lobby is an expansive multi-story bar and lounge, a room far too large to fit within the confines of 1 Wall Street Court/The Continental as we had understood them. Filmed at the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, this huge space is introduced to support a climactic multi-part gunfight, with Wick and Charon fending off the Adjudicator’s forces.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 also introduces a multi-story sub-basement space that serves as storage, a morgue, and an incinerator. The relation of this space to the club introduced in the first film is unclear.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

And, The Continental now contains an elaborate armory safe room, which acts as an operations center for Wick, Charon, and Winston.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

However, the most visually striking addition to The Continental is the “administrative lounge,” a glass cage, seemingly built atop part of the building. Winston describes the space as such: “we only use this room on special occasions—when you simply have to see what your opponent is holding under the table.” This elaborate location (which was built on a soundstage) contains at least three floors, starting with a lower floor decorated with glass (crystal?) skulls in rectangular frames. When Wick reaches the end of the lower level, we see the upper edge of The Continental, implying that this is built directly on top of the building, making it visible from any of the many surrounding buildings.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

A middle floor—on which a number of fights occur, is dominated by a series of screens and projections (visually borrowing from James Bond’s fight with Patrice in Skyfall (dir. Sam Mendes, 2012)). Visually, this is the most open moment of the films, rendering Wick’s exposure architecturally, even if it violates the logic of The Continental (hiding these hired killers from the world) and the architecture of 1 Wall Street Court (there is no way this is congruent with the building we’ve been shown). Stairs lead up to a third floor, though we don’t see it in the course of the film.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

Finally, contributing to the shifting logic and nature of The Continental, John Wick: Chapter 3 features another rooftop scene, this time with an exaggerated, gothic fireplace and a different entrance, contradicting the previous installment, or contributing to the mercurial nature of The Continental.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahleski, 2019)

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