Twisted Metal Review: Another Successful Video Game Adaptation

The Twisted Metal TV series seems to prove that The Last of Us was not a fluke for PlayStation Productions, a new production company designed to faithfully adapt the console-maker's vast library of franchises to television and film. While Twisted Metal is very different from The Last of Us, the new Peacock series maintains the DNA of the IP that fans hold dearly while making it accessible to a new audience. This may come as a bit of a surprise, as some were put off by the marketing to the show, but it manages to make itself an appealing new offering for Peacock subscribers and a show mostly worthy of the branding it represents.

Twisted Metal follows John Doe (Anthony Mackie) in an American wasteland. His job as a "milkman" is to deliver packages between the various walled-off cities across the post-apocalyptic country in a souped-up, weaponized sedan. It's a pretty lonely, not-so-luxurious life and he's offered the opportunity to come live in one of these walled-off cities if he can deliver a package to the dangerous city of New Chicago. It's a tall order, but one he's willing to attempt in order to live a life with less violence and more normalcy. 

Along the way, he encounters various characters from the Twisted Metal franchise, such as Agent Stone (Thomas Haden Church), Quiet (Stephanie Beatriz), Sweet Tooth (Will Arnett as the voice, Samoa Joe as the physical actor), and so on. It's a very colorful cast of characters and they're all brought to life with a really talented all-star lineup of stars. The premise may sound pretty bleak, but this is a comedy series and it's one that gave me a handful of guttural laughs. While not every joke lands and some of it toes the line on being just a little too juvenile, this is probably one of the funniest shows I've watched this year.

(Photo: Peacock)

This is the last show I ever expected to have a jump scare centered around the Turtle Man from Master of Disguise, but that's the kind of humor you can expect. It's a show that leverages its comedy in multiple ways. Of course, Anthony Mackie is kooky and always firing off zingers to give the show its comedic energy. Thomas Haden Church plays a hardened, straight-faced cop, but that allows for its own kind of humor when he refers to "Barbie Girl" by Aqua as "his jam" from "back in the day" with total sincerity. Even things like the editing choices or cartoon-ish sound effects often help sell a laugh, which is something that can really elevate a comedy beyond simply having well-written jokes.

Will Arnett's Sweet Tooth arguably steals the show and is easily the funniest character in the series. He's a mass-murdering, hulking man that dons a clown mask and drives an ice cream truck that looks like it could be part of the War Boys' convoy in Mad Max: Fury Road. However, he longs to perform for an audience and is not finding much luck doing so in the abandoned hotel/casino he resides in. Eventually, he leaves the desolate version of Vegas behind and takes his show on the road, aiming to take down a bunch of outposts that have captured survivors in hopes of turning them into an army of adoring fans. Everything about his mission is absurd, but that's the joy of it. His deranged cross-country killing spree is done with a tongue-in-cheek nature that makes it so stupid, you can't help but love it.

Although this is a comedy, Twisted Metal still has plenty of serious and earnest moments. John Doe is a character with amnesia and doesn't know where he comes from or what it's like to have family, something he's continuously haunted by throughout the series. Quiet is a pretty traumatized person who tries to keep Doe at arm's length, not wanting to let anyone close to her ever again. Agent Stone was a pushover rent-a-cop before the world collapsed and used the downfall of humanity to more or less be the power-hungry cop he always wanted to be. In doing so, he creates a new world order, trying to establish a new brand of law in a world filled with savages. It's pretty impressive how much depth Twisted Metal is able to give these characters and how it's able to continue to expand on them as the show goes on.

(Photo: Peacock)

The pacing of Twisted Metal is perfect as well. A lot of shows have gotten used to the hour-long format and, while it works for many, it's also resulted in quite a bit of filler or drawn out seasons. Twisted Metal opts to stick to a 30-minute run time across ten episodes and it allows the story to feel focused and build a sense of momentum that never really feels like it slows down, even when it flashes back to fill in the backstories of characters. Every episode progresses the story in a significant way, not too dissimilar to the structure of The Last of Us, where it's a road story that sees the core duo meeting a new group of characters in many of the episodes.

Anyone who watched Barry will likely have a good understanding of how these shorter run times can be utilized to propel the story forward and grant the opportunity for a concentrated number of high-quality jokes and gags. There's really not a second of wasted time across the entire show.

However, one of the more disappointing elements of Twisted Metal are the action scenes. On one hand, there are a lot of great uses of practical effects. They appear to be using real vehicles as much as possible, meaning they don't look too rubbery and can really instill a feeling of danger and scale that's harder to capture with CG car action. On the other hand, the editing can feel too jumpy and unfocused, meaning you don't really get to feel engaged or immersed in the chaos as it's cutting around to different angles so much. It can still be enjoyed, but given this is adapting a video game series that is solely focused on car-on-car combat, this feels like a pretty major let down.

(Photo: Peacock)

A lot of Twisted Metal also takes place out of the cars. It feels like the formula for a lot of the episodes is John Doe and Quiet get captured, have the car disabled in some way, or have to leave the vehicle for some reason and do things on foot. At the end of an episode, they'll escape just in the nick of time in their car and be on the road to rinse and repeat. Some episodes have no significant action beats in the cars, which can make the ones we do get feel sparse. One episode has two sex scenes in 30 minutes, but zero action scenes with cars. If you felt The Last of Us skimped out on sequences with the infected, Twisted Metal's lack of meaningful destruction-derby-esque set pieces may feel equally disappointing. Twisted Metal is able to get away with a lot of this because the rest of it is truly great and everyone is giving it their all, but it's hard not to feel a little cheated. 

There are also some pretty major deviations from the source material. While The Last of Us followed the game almost beat for beat, Twisted Metal gets very loose with what it chooses to rip straight from the games. There aren't any changes that feel too egregious, but the backstories of some characters are wildly different here than in the games and as already mentioned, the lackluster amount of car-based action may really peeve die-hard fans. These aren't things that bothered me personally, but they may bother those who have a deeper connection with the franchise.

Twisted Metal is a very charming show that manages to accomplish a lot in its ten 30-minute episodes. There are tons of well-earned laughs, a diverse cast of eccentric characters with fleshed out and unique backstories, and a surprising amount of world-building. It's almost shocking that the show isn't longer, given everything it does and how well it pulls it all off. While there are some areas that suffer, such as the vehicular action scenes, everything else comes together in such a satisfying way that it makes Twisted Metal another very successful gaming adaptation.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Twisted Metal premieres on Peacock on July 27th.