Peacock’s bold, bloody adaptation of the PlayStation vehicular combat classic, Twisted Metal, struggles to balance camp with car carnage.
“What do you say, John? Will you drive?”
There’s been a recent run of exceptional video game adaptations between The Last of Us, Castlevania, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, and The Super Mario Bros and Sonic the Hedgehog movies. There’s no longer the same stigma that once accompanied video game series and movies. Streaming services are now taking major swings on video game IPs whether it’s Netflix’s The Witcher, Amazon’s upcoming Tomb Raider series, or Peacock’s Twisted Metal. It wasn’t long ago when a Twisted Metal TV series would have been a ludicrous venture, but it’s now as good an idea as any. Twisted Metal has a dark, absurdist world that’s had decades to develop. There’s easily a strong enough foundation for a weird and memorable limited series. Peacock’s Twisted Metal isn’t totally a junker that should be sent to the dump, but it does feel like it’s made out of spare parts from different vehicles that take too long to turn into a comfortable ride.
Twisted Metal is set two decades after a Y2K-like disaster leaves the “Divided States of America” in ruin. John Doe (Anthony Mackie), a lowly milkman who’s spent his life living on the outside, gets a chance at normalcy and an easier existence where he doesn’t need to fight tooth and nail to merely survive. John must complete the world’s most dangerous delivery gig–and stay alive in the process–in exchange for a cushy existence in New San Francisco. Unfortunately for John, a cavalcade of eclectic creeps have their eyes on the same prize. Die hard Twisted Metal fans will note that this is not the plot of the video games and it’s a lot more like a broad approximation of Twisted Metal in a generic Mad Max wasteland. Plenty of video game adaptations find success through forging original stories that use their source material merely as a springboard. Twisted Metal has bigger issues than straying from its original story, but there’s still enough reckless car catastrophes to leave fans satisfied.
Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are executive producers on Twisted Metal and helped craft the pilot episode’s story. This dark comedy reeks of Reese and Wernick’s Zombieland and Deadpool. Wisecracking, self-aware characters try to make the best out of a post-apocalyptic living. At one point, a copy of the original Twisted Metal for the PlayStation falls on John Doe’s windshield while Anthony Mackie looks perplexed into the camera. It might as well be a scene from Deadpool. This doesn’t make any sense in the context of the series, but it effectively sets the tone for a lot of dumb, surface-level fun that’s not afraid to embrace style over substance. Later on, John Doe recites a button code from the Twisted Metal video games while he manipulates the car’s stick shift in order to activate a much-needed speed boost. That’s the level of gratuitous Easter Eggs that are in play in Twisted Metal.
Twisted Metal’s zippy scripts are full of stilted one-liners that feel hollow coming out of Mackie. The series leans hard into comedy over action, a lot of which doesn’t only miss its mark, but is just perplexing. There are certain jokes in Twisted Metal that it’s hard to imagine anyone laughing at, especially in the context of the rest of the series. Weak writing aside, Kitao Sakurai directs the season’s strongest episodes and he at least brings a chaotically entertaining visual style to this rubber-burning rampage.
Anthony Mackie has plenty of action franchise experience to his name, but he’s just not the right fit here and often becomes Twisted Metal’s least interesting character. Even Will Arnett feels like he’s phoning it in with his vocal portrayal of Twisted Metal’s maniacal mascot, Sweet Tooth. He lacks his usual flair and the performance is often lifeless. Will Arnett’s voice carries a certain cache, but Samoa Joe does such strong work with the physicality and body language that he brings to the character that it’s unfortunate that he couldn’t just do the whole thing and that such “stunt casting” is even necessary.
Twisted Metal assembles a commendable supporting cast between Stephanie Beatriz, Neve Campbell, Chloe Fineman, and Thomas Haden Church. Beatriz handles the dialogue a lot more naturally than Mackie and Twisted Metal might have kicked off to a stronger start if their roles were reversed. Curiously, it’s growing PTSD issues with Mike Mitchell’s superfluous lackey, Stu, and his shifting allegiances that become some of the season’s most compelling material.
Not all of Twisted Metal’s character dynamics and arcs are successful, but if nothing else, the series is extremely violent and stays true to its source material in this capacity. Bodies get eviscerated through turret fire while windshield wipers spread blood across the vehicle. It’s definitely a mature-rated series, but this violence hits with an almost-comedic quality. All of this is so over the top that it becomes cartoonish. Twisted Metal’s gratuitous gore is used more as a punchline than a source of tension or terror. Twisted Metal’s universe is so outlandish that this slapstick approach to carnage makes sense, but it’s leaned on too often and to diminishing returns (although there’s a fantastic extended hatchet-in-the-face practical effect in the finale).
As much as John Doe resembles Deadpool with his sarcastic asides, this post-apocalyptic world is reminiscent of first draft Zombieland ideas or concepts that would have made it into the TV series. Dystopian wastelands of weirdos have become increasingly common (Miracle Workers is even in the middle of a Mad Max-inspired season), but none of Twisted Metal’s ideas are unique. There’s also a really artificial sheen to Twisted Metal’s world and some of its bigger stunts that don’t do it any favors. There’s no weight to any of it and it comes across as the opposite of Mad Max: Fury Road; not that anyone was expecting a George Miller level spectacle here. Any of the sequences where characters are actually in their vehicles are visually dynamic, but there’s far too much time spent on foot where the vehicles feel like afterthoughts. That’s not to say that Twisted Metal should consist purely of demolition derbies, but without the cars there’s nothing here that audiences can’t get elsewhere and better.
Twisted Metal does slowly find a rhythm and pick a lane, at which point it’s a lot easier to enjoy these heavy-handed caricatures and their explosive antics with modest expectations. The finale is easily the season’s best entry and when the series finally, truly feels like Twisted Metal and not just cosplay in a wasteland with cars. Twisted Metal is dumb fun that’s big, broad, and unabashedly bloody. It’s nowhere near the level of The Last of Us or even SyFy’s Blood Drive, but it’s campy escapism that doesn’t ask much of its audience. Twisted Metal sets up a more action-packed second season that will more closely resemble the video games and likely be an improvement upon this divided and diluted start. That being said, most audiences may not even make it to the finish line and there’s a good chance Twisted Metal ends up on the streaming scrap heap.
Your move, Vigilante 8.
Season one of ‘Twisted Metal’ is now available to stream on Peacock.
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