Hunters Review: Violent, Fascinating, and a Little Befuddling

Audiences have been excited to see Amazon Prime's Hunters almost from the jump, thanks to its [...]

Audiences have been excited to see Amazon Prime's Hunters almost from the jump, thanks to its politically-relevant Nazi-hunting concept, the promise of Al Pacino stepping into his first regular TV series role, and the creative team that includes horror icon Jordan Peele. If the series' first five episodes are any indication, it seems like that excitement will be worth it, as Hunters has the potential to be one of the first truly buzzworthy TV shows of the 2020s. Even when the series stumbles, it establishes a television world that is violent, surreal, and oddly fascinating to watch, largely thanks to the diverse ensemble cast at its center.

Set in the late 1970s, the series follows Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman), a disaffected young man who works at a comic book store in New York City. After the sudden and unexplained murder of his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor named Ruth (Jeannie Berlin), Jonah is unintentionally thrown head-first into the world of the "Hunters". Led by Ruth's longtime friend and fellow Holocaust survivor Meyer Offerman (Pacino), the Hunters are an undercover and diverse group of mercenaries who are exacting revenge on the Nazis that are hiding in plain sight in America. As the Hunters make it through their list of possible targets, their mission begins to cross paths with that of an FBI agent named Millie Morris (Jerrika Hinton), and both parties discover a deep conspiracy.

What unfolds from there is imperfect, but ambitious in a way that is admirable. Hunters definitely uses its 1970s setting to its utmost advantage, both in terms of the political and social allegories and in terms of how the story is aesthetically told; it even subverts expectations with its episode lengths, as the pilot clocks in at a commendable but frustrating 90 minutes. A lot of the series plays off of the B-movie, grindhouse energy that was prevalent in cinema at the time, with a hearty dose of Bronze Age comic storytelling thrown in for good measure. That especially becomes the case once Jonah and the audience are properly introduced to the Hunters in the second episode, which plays out in one of the most fun sequences I've seen on TV in a while.

Hunters' approach to violence definitely shares that same kind of sensibility, in a way that will probably be one of the series' most controversial aspects. Quite a few of the action sequences are incredibly inventive (including one involving a bowling ball), but the series isn't afraid to ruminate in the sheer horror of itself when it needs to. Those dips into darkness are absolutely warranted, especially with the flashbacks to the specific Nazi atrocities that the Hunters are trying to get revenge for, but they make the series a difficult and jarring watch at times.

Given Jonah's day job and the series' overall grindhouse tone, it was safe to assume that Hunters would feature a litany of pop culture references. The execution of them varies wildly, ranging from amusing bits of worldbuilding — washed-up actor Lonny Flash (Josh Radnor) rants about losing a job to Richard Dreyfuss — to a little too cutesy. One lengthy discussion about Darth Vader's origin story falls into the latter, almost to hammer home the fact that this is set long before the Star Wars prequels were greenlit. Even outside of the pop culture ephemera, an argument can be made that a lot of the dialogue of Hunters is too clever to its own good. Many of the characters fluctuate from flawed and three-dimensional to quippy caricatures at the drop of a hat, based on what's required of them in a particular scene. While the groundwork is certainly laid for more development in the back half of the season, the question remains whether or not Hunters will get there.

Even if that doesn't end up being the case, the ensemble cast of Hunters does make the whole ordeal worth watching. After a decade of playing a teenager in movies like Percy Jackson and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Lerman is a master at playing a young man coming of age, and his take on Jonah is frustrating and intriguing as a result. At one point, Jonah is referred to as the equivalent of Robin the Boy Wonder, which is a comparison that you won't be able to shake after hearing it. Subsequently, Pacino's role does fill a sort of Bruce Wayne archetype, but that almost completely undersells what the actor brings to the table. Whether you're fond of the serious, commanding Pacino in The Godfather or The Irishman, or the meme-worthy Pacino in Jack & Jill and Gigli, you will find something to appreciate in how he plays Meyer.

While Lerman and Pacino will help draw a lot of people into the series, the ensemble cast around them is truly worth sticking around for. It's hard to not fall in love with the other members of the Hunters even when they're being incredibly bombastic and ridiculous, as their overall dynamic comes across like a weird alternate version of the X-Men. Radnor, Carol Kane, and Sal Rubinek will be much more recognizable to mainstream audiences, and I can only hope that this series will make stars out of Tiffany Boone, Louis Ozawa, and Kate Mulvany, all of whom make their characters incredibly watchable in a short amount of time. The show's Nazi villains are also deeply entertaining to watch without ever being humanized, with Greg Austin and Dylan Baker being definite standouts. But if there's one true MVP out of Hunters, it's definitely Hinton, who is absolutely incredible from her very first moment on screen. Her narrative as Millie unfolds like the queer, black, female cop show you never knew you needed, and it's a joy watching her delightfully buck stereotypes along the way.

In a weird way, Hunters feels like an unintentional echo of HBO's Watchmen — both chronicle a violent fight against a resurgence of white supremacy, both embrace and subvert elements of comic book storytelling, and both have protagonists who are thrust further into the fight, thanks to the secret past of their grandparents. It remains to be seen if Hunters will capture the same kind of heartbreaking nuance and current relevance as that series did last fall, or occupy the more self-aware, grindhouse avenue that the first five episodes do. Either way, there's just enough working in Hunters' favor to make it a journey worth following.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Season One of Hunters will be released on February 21st on Amazon Prime.