Anthony Mackie leads the race in the long-awaited video game adaptation series from the writers of Deadpool.
Plot: A motor-mouthed outsider is offered a chance at a better life, but only if he can successfully deliver a mysterious package across a post-apocalyptic wasteland. With the help of a badass axe-wielding car thief, he’ll face savage marauders driving vehicles of destruction and other dangers of the open road, including a deranged clown who drives an all too familiar ice cream truck.
Review: Back in the 1990s, when Playstation was the most popular gaming console, Twisted Metal was one of the go-to games my friends and I would throw in and play together. Driving around in weapon-laden cars and blowing each other to hell was fun and made up for the lack of a truly engaging plot. In the almost thirty years (damn, I am old) since Twisted Metal first debuted, multiple attempts have been made to turn the carnage into a feature film. On the tail end of the streaming boom, we have finally gotten an adaptation in the form of this Peacock series. With a heavy dose of humor to offset the bleak dystopian bloodshed, Twisted Metal is far from what I expected from a live-action adaptation. While it does not quite live up to its potential, Twisted Metal is nevertheless an enjoyable, if mediocre, ride down the highway to hell.
Transforming a racing game into a narrative series would always be a challenge. Still, Twisted Metal has opted to explore the dystopian world of the Playstation franchise rather than focus on the vehicle element. Yes, cars and trucks figure prominently in the story. But Twisted Metal has fleshed out the world decades after an apocalyptic event divided the civilized world into walled-off cities and lawless expanses. In this new world, John Doe (Anthony Mackie) works as a milkman, a delivery job that has him perform missions in exchange for payment. Unable to remember much, John is given a mission from New San Francisco mayor Raven (Neve Campbell) that sends him across the country to New Chicago. Along the way, John meets up with Quiet (Stephanie Beatriz), who is out for revenge on lawman Agent Stone (Thomas Haden Church). The ten-episode series presents standalone stories on their journey across the desolate Divided States of America while connecting both characters’ main quests.
While many seemingly one-off stories culminate in the tenth and final episode, few of the elements of each chapter recall much about the video game itself. While the premiere episode has a decent chase sequence, the vehicle element of Twisted Metal takes a backseat for most of the season. The writers do a solid job incorporating many references and callbacks to the games, including characters like Agent Stone, Miranda Watts, Raven, Sweet Tooth, The Holy Men, Granny Dread, Mike and Stu, Bloody Mary, and more. There is also a connection to the key video game character Calypso, but most of the time is spent with Anthony Mackie and Stephanie Beatriz as John Doe and Quiet. The relationship between these two characters is central to the series, and both are more than up to the task. Beatriz has proven her comedic skills with her role on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but I was pleasantly surprised by how funny Anthony Mackie is. Channeling Ryan Reynolds’ trademark brand of humor, Mackie has a blast playing this character from beginning to end.
The series also relies heavily on Agent Stone and Sweet Tooth, both of whom get backstories in this series. Thomas Haden Church is quietly menacing as the face of The Law, while Samoa Joe embodies the hulking Sweet Tooth. Will Arnett, delivering a deep and gruff vocal performance as the flaming clown, offsets the physical presence of Sweet Tooth with a pitch-perfect voice role. Over the ten episodes of this season, the bulk of the narrative brings John Doe and Quiet together as friends and love interests. Still, it is all heading towards the final episode, the only entry in the entire run that earns the title of Twisted Metal. While the story has an overall quest/mission component, it rarely feels like the driving force of the series aside from the very beginning and end. So much of Twisted Metal relies on jokes and graphic violence that it meanders its way through half a dozen of the ten-episode season.
Developed from a story by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, Twisted Metal shares a sense of humor with the duo’s films Deadpool and Zombieland. However, Twisted Metal never quite earns the same refinement as seen in a feature-length film. With so much time to fill, the series’ writing team headed by Michael Jonathan Smith (Cobra Kai) pads the tale with many wisecracks about a dystopian society. Even so, Twisted Metal looks too glossy for the post-apocalyptic setting. The crew of filmmakers, including directors Kitao Sakurai, Bill Benz, Jude Weng, and Maggie Carey, do what they can with the production values, but they pale compared to The Walking Dead or The Last of Us. Despite the lower scale of most of the episodes, there is a hefty dose of retro music on the soundtrack, especially some key 90s tunes for the chase scenes. But even well-placed tunes from Evanescence and Cake cannot make up for the weakness of the series as a whole.
Twisted Metal leaves itself open for a second season which could hew closer to the concept of the video games. By bringing some characters back and introducing new ones from the multiple games in the franchise, Twisted Metal would need to find a better story to invest in with higher stakes and better production values. This take on the PlayStation stalwart feels like it would have played better had it been released twenty years ago. As much as I enjoyed Anthony Mackie’s performance, Twisted Metal is too generic, lazy, and light to be good. There are a few laughs to be had through the first season, but they are underwhelming, to say the least. With all ten episodes dropping simultaneously, you could plow through the series in a few hours and never look back. Or, you could watch the first and last episodes and get the gist of the whole series in under ninety minutes.
Twisted Metal premieres all ten episodes of its first season on July 27th on Peacock.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/twisted-metal-tv-review/