Ahead of the debut over the weekend of highly anticipated , I let curiosity get the better of me and did a dumb thing: I decided to check out the early reviews on Rotten Tomatoes before watching the first episode of the three-part series. “Yikes” was my first reaction. That’s because the $1 billion franchise that’s already spawned four feature films, plus a spinoff movie coming next year starring Ana de Armas, has apparently just released its first misfire.
As of Monday morning, the show was stuck with a “rotten” 50% Tomatometer score on the review aggregation site (it’s since improved to “fresh” status, at 65%). Sign up for the most interesting tech & entertainment news out there. By signing up, I agree to the and have reviewed the What happened? On paper, at least, it seemed like had everything going for it.
is packed with High Table lore and dives deep into the origins of the universe’s hotel for assassins. Plot-wise, it’s built around the character of a young Winston Scott (the hotel proprietor played by Ian McShane in the movies). The action and gunplay, at least what I saw in the first feature-length episode, are adequate, bordering on satisfying.
So far, so good, right? It’s when we move to a discussion of the cast, though, that things become a problem. For one thing, there’s no Keanu Reeves here — an understandable omission, given that is a prequel that’s set decades before the movies. Still, I can understand how some people think Keanu’s absence handicaps the show from the outset.
He’s probably 95% of the reason why fans loved the movies in the first place. What’s more, a lack of Keanu isn’t even the only major issue with the cast of . For many of the critics I’ve seen who’ve been dumping on the show, their beef can be summed up with just two words: Mel Gibson, who plays a villain here named Cormac.
The disgraced actor’s presence alone makes the series “unwatchable,” snarls a , which then proceeds to nitpick every single thing about the show in the service of an argument that it doesn’t live up to the movies. That the fight sequences, for example, aren’t good enough. That the needle drops insist upon themselves.
That the lighting is too dreary. And on and on. All of that leads us back to the show’s disappointing 65% score from Rotten Tomatoes critics.
For comparison, exceedingly dumb reality series, in which participants try to guess if objects are made out of (you guessed it) cake, has a nearly identical Tomatometer score of 67%. Go figure. Listen, I’m not going to blame anyone who decides not to watch this show because of the presence of Mel Gibson.
There are very good reasons to go that route. Part of me, though, feels like when a critic is dumping on because the director (or whoever) cast Mel Gibson, the critic is almost reviewing … Mel Gibson, more so than they’re reviewing the show as an overall entity. That leads to a nuanced and kind of interesting discussion that I don’t think journalists ever sufficiently grapple with: Can a show be good enough to overcome the baggage of a cast member, particularly one who’s said and done some pretty heinous things? On a related note, whenever a person watches something, is that person giving their tacit approval to each cast member’s life story and past deeds or statements simply on the basis of enjoying a show in its totality? Many viewers of , for what it’s worth, seem like they’ve already answered those questions: The show currently has an 83% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
It sort of feels like a number of critics ripped apart for reasons that really don’t make a lot of sense. At the end of the day, it’s a prequel series we’re talking about here. If you want a direct extension of the John Wick movies, all you need to do is just sit tight until .
In the meantime, two things can be true at once. Mel Gibson is awful. And Peacock’s , so far, is entertaining and just fine for what it is.