Well, this turned out better than anyone could have expected, right?
Anyone who was playing the PS1 in the mid-nineties knows what Twisted Metal is. The first game was released in 1995, the sequel, a year later, and both are considered classics of the PS1 era. Considered ‘vehicular combat video games’, Twisted Metal itself is a tournament hosted by the mysterious ‘Calypso’ who promises the winner of the tournament a single wish.
Players choose a vehicle and do battle in arenas, picking up weapons to destroy their opponents. Filled with dark humour and odd characters, it’s a beloved franchise with a lot of nostalgia for many.
Nothing about the game’s premises screamed ‘adaption’ so it was quite a surprise to see this one announced. Expectations had to be low, which has potentially helped the show as no-one expected it be decent, let alone good, and Twisted Metal is good. Mainly because it doesn’t take itself too seriously (most of the time) and found a way to honour the game series without being bogged down with the tournament aspect.
Ten episodes long, each around thirty minutes long, the show was developed by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Michael Jonathan Smith. It stars Anthony Mackie, Stephanie Beatriz, Joe Seanoa (Samoa Joe), Will Arnett, Thomas Haden Church and Neve Campbell.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the story of Twisted Metal surrounds John Doe (Mackie), a ‘milkman’ who delivers goods between the walled cities. His job sees him having to drive through the lawless outside world ruled by gangs, scavengers, and psychopaths, but he is one of the best.
His skills get him noticed by the leader of New San Francisco, Raven (Campbell) who offers him a chance of a new life within the walls of the city. All he needs to do is drive across the country, retrieve a package, and bring it back within a certain amount of time. Do this, and John can leave behind the life of a milkman, a life that is notoriously short. As he puts it himself – you never see an old milkman.
His path across the country will bring him into contact with a number of unique individuals. Quiet (Beatriz), a woman wanting revenge for the death of her brother, the merciless Agent Stone (Haden Church) and his gang of ‘lawmakers’, and the psychotic Sweet Tooth (Seanoa/Arnett). It’s a twisted world out there.
It’s a simple story that is kept tight and fast-moving, with many familiar tropes along the way. Tropes such as a love story, redemption arcs, betrayal, deaths, and heroism. There’s little fresh about Twisted Metal’s story and its subplots, but that doesn’t mean they’re not handled well.. mostly.
Whereas many will enjoy John and Quiet’s relationship and personal stories, it takes a while for their chemistry to really come through. Some forced drama feels wasteful, and when left to just talk, they’re not always hitting the mark. Contrast that with the scene-stealing Sweet Tooth and the impressive Agent Stone. The former is delightfully insane, and both actors involved in bringing him to life, nail it. Whereas the latter is a whole different kind of insane. He’s more real than anything in this world and it makes him the scariest villain of all.
Elsewhere, there are tons of side-characters with minor story arcs, many taken from the game. Again, some work and others don’t. Some feel extremely shoe-horned in and that is proven by events at the end of the show, and the attempts to create emotional scenes from characters who have had minutes of screen time, is laughable.
This is the stuff that doesn’t work in Twisted Metal and thankfully, it’s not the dominating feature of the show. What is, is extremely dark humour, a lot of which is quite funny, and violent action. Twisted Metal is not a kid’s show and the carnage is often extremely delightful. Who doesn’t love someone taking an axe to the face?
Mixing practical stunts and effects with CGI, the show looks pretty good overall. There are times where the CGI doesn’t quite hold up, but it feels like a minor complaint considering the explosive and bloody chaos that assaults the screen.
It is a lot of fun to watch. Maybe two episodes too long as there are a couple that feel a bit dragged out and bloated, but thankfully kept short overall. If you’re binge-watching it, you can be done with it in a little over five hours.
It also feels like a ‘one and done’, until you see the final few minutes and it sets up a second season that almost sounds regressive when you take into context what this season did and the game it’s adapted from. Will we get a second season? Who knows right now, but at least we have this completely unnecessary, but good adaption of something that should have been unadaptable.
Twisted Metal - Season 1 (2023)
The Final Score - 7/10