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A joyride into madness

Rev up your engines for a thrilling journey through a post-apocalyptic world of vehicular mayhem

When I first found out that there was going to be a live-action TV adaptation of Twisted Metal, a cherished game franchise from my childhood, scepticism naturally crept in. It’s a series that I still revisit from time to time through deep dives and retrospectives.

Given the less-than-stellar history of video game adaptations, the concern wasn’t unfounded.

However, the recent announcement of a second season during the Game Awards and a nostalgic yearning to revisit those late-night co-op sessions with my cousin, wreaking vehicular havoc, has softened my reservations.

And I’m glad it did, because this show is uninhibitedly insane, in all the right ways.

 

A TWISTED TALE

For the uninitiated, Twisted Metal, originating in the 90s with its debut title in 1995, is a vehicular combat game series published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. The heart of the gameplay lies in a demolition derby-style competition, aptly named after the series itself.

In this heart-pounding battle royale, vehicles clash in a struggle to the end, deploying an array of weapons that span from machine guns and missiles to even satellite-based and nuclear armaments.

‘Twisted Metal’ stars Anthony Mackie, Stephanie Beatriz, and Nuufolau Joel ‘Joe’ Seanoa who is voiced by Will Arnett. PHOTO: PEACOCK

Despite being a rather niche genre, the Twisted Metal series had strong legs, spanning over a decade with ten entries, concluding with its last sequel in 2012.

Its enduring popularity however persists till this day, with a dedicated fan base eagerly anticipating any hint of a new instalment in this carnival of carnage.

The series’ appeal lies in its storytelling. While the annual Twisted Metal competition, orchestrated by the enigmatic Calypso, provides the overarching structure, each game has a distinct narrative.

These stories revolve around a diverse array of characters, all striving for the coveted prize – a single wish granted to the victor.

The characters span a broad spectrum, ranging from whimsically colourful to profoundly dark and tragic. Each character operates a unique vehicle with a special move that seamlessly integrates with their personality.

From a war veteran seeking vengeance on an advisor who left him and a comrade for dead, resorting to cannibalism for survival to an environmentalist willing to engage in vehicular combat to restore the planet to its pristine, natural state.

It’s an off-kilter cast, which includes the game’s beloved mascot, a serial killer clown known for wreaking havoc in his traditional ice cream truck, accompanied by the unmistakable tune of an ice cream jingle.

 

WELCOME TO THE FREAK SHOW

Twisted Metal the game, though story-rich in characters was always vague about its universe. You have an annual tournament where, armed-to-the-teeth vehicles piloted by (mostly) lawless psychopaths, would rampage through cities, leaving a trail of destruction to both property and its unfortunate residents.

You also have the grand host Calypso, possessing the extraordinary ability to grant any wish your heart desires – and I mean any, with subtle hints suggesting his origins delve into the depths of hell.

So, it makes you wonder: What kind of world not only puts up with but actually treats this wild tournament as something normal, happening every year?

Well, Twisted Metal the show, lays it all out for you with all the intensity of a rainstorm of bullets and blood.

In a post-apocalyptic aftermath of a cyber-attack that obliterated technology, cities transformed into fortresses, isolated from the outside world. Criminals were cast beyond the walls to fend for themselves.

A scene from ‘Twisted Metal’. PHOTO: PEACOCK

Enter the amnesiac John Doe, portrayed by Anthony Mackie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a motor mouthed courier known as a ‘milkman’. Milkmen, hired risk-takers, navigate the desolate United States, facing its blood-thirsty (and trigger-happy) inhabitants.

As the series kicks off, John embarks on a journey to deliver a mysterious package. It’s through this odyssey that the demented universe of Twisted Metal unfurls in all its glory.

For dedicated franchise fans, alarm bells may already be ringing, given he shares his name with one of the game’s characters.

Which brings me to a standout aspect of the show – its characters, more precisely, how they are interpreted and their seamless integration into the show’s universe.

Despite Twisted Metal’s reputation for a diverse cast, their storylines were consistently thin. While accumulating a roster of fan-favourite characters, they remained closely tethered to their vehicles, many of which became iconic game staples.

Take Outlaw, for instance – an early franchise vehicle appearing in nearly every game, consistently portrayed as a law enforcement vehicle.

There have been at least three different characters under the Outlaw moniker throughout the game franchise so imagine my surprise when the show featured all three of them.

 This integration aligns perfectly with the universe, especially considering one of the more prominent Outlaws, Agent Stone (played by Thomas Haden Church), leads a faction of self-appointed law enforcers, with a mission to rid the world of criminals, with extreme prejudice.

 The show truly takes liberties with the source material, yet it benefits from it by infusing new life into the interactions, motivations, bonds, and conflicts among the in-game universe characters.

Sweet Tooth is portrayed by American pro wrestler Nuufolau Joel ‘Joe’ Seanoa and voiced by Will Arnett

CAMP, COMEDY AND CARNAGE

Now I may have painted the show in a slightly darker tone, which would align with the game franchise, the show however is also full-on camp, which also stays true to the source material.

Again, for those not-in-the-know, camp refers to a style that deliberately exaggerates things to a point of being over-the-top, funny, and sometimes a bit cheesy or ridiculous. It’s basically taking everything to the extreme.

Twisted Metal, the show, is a high-octane blend of horror, action, and comedy, successfully delivering on each aspect.

The car combat scenes, though sporadic, are an absolute thrill – swift, entertaining, and a heartfelt homage to the original games. After all, it wouldn’t be Twisted Metal without cars attempting to blast each other to smithereens.

Every detail, from the weaponry to the choice of arenas, resonates as a perfect love letter made by and for dedicated fans.

An earlier scene cleverly nods to the intricate cheat codes of the PlayStation era, evoking a warm wave of nostalgia for those golden gaming days.

Anthony Mackie, sharing the lead with Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), not only brings humour but elevates the show with his charismatic performance.

The delightful chemistry between the two, verging on slapstick buddy cop territory, is a genuine joy to watch and often leads to hearty, laugh-out-loud moments.

Anthony Mackie in ‘Twisted Metal’. PHOTO: IGN

Then there is the cherished, crazed clown Sweet Tooth, taking a prime spot in the series with a design adapted from Twisted Metal: Black.

Portrayed by American pro wrestler Nuufolau Joel ‘Joe’ Seanoa and voiced by Will Arnett, this iteration of Sweet Tooth genuinely captures the quintessence of Twisted Metal. He’s uproarious, zany and a chaotic force on the show, instilling dread wherever he roams.

While not claiming any awards, the series does have its flaws – the dialogue can feel a bit canned, and the forced jokes might be a tad much. The tone initially wavered in the first few episodes, struggling to strike a balance between depth and levity. However, it swiftly outgrew this uncertainty, blending comedy and tragedy.

As the series progressed, it also delved into issues of morality and classism, adding layers of complexity to its narrative.

It does fall short of being deemed quality television, but what Twisted Metal, the show, undeniably offers is pure, unadulterated fun. Ultimately, the live-action adaptation of Twisted Metal will take you on a joyride into madness, surprising even sceptics like myself with its unique format and nostalgic appeal.

It may not be perfect but at the very least, it undeniably succeeds in delivering an entertaining and thrilling experience for fans of the Twisted Metal universe. – Wardi Wasil

 

 

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