Twisted Metal, review: Mad Max mixed with Nineties nostalgia makes for riotous fun

Twisted Metal has been hugely popular with US audiences
Twisted Metal has been hugely popular with US audiences - Skip Bolen

It’s unclear what possessed Paramount+ to reboot the 30-year-old PlayStation game Twisted Metal (Paramount +) as a riotous action-comedy starring Marvel’s incoming Captain America, Anthony Mackie.

But the real surprise is that this Mad Max-style tale of post-apocalyptic road warriors should so successfully make the jump from pixels to prestige dramedy. It could have been a car crash. Instead, it’s an enjoyably breakneck whoosh through the A-Z of dystopian sci-fi cliches.

Mackie is John Doe – a “Milkman” in an ecologically devastated United States who drives from city to city delivering essential supplies. As the story begins, he is hired by the mayor of the fortress-like New San Francisco to retrieve a package from Chicago. The mayor is played by Scream actress Neve Campbell, the only cast member who seems self-conscious about starring in a hokey video-game adaptation. Everyone else buys into it. That includes Mackie, having fun as a disaster-prone Mad Max, and comedian Will Arnett, voicing an enormous homicidal clown named Sweet Tooth.

The original game was a crash-bang-wallop precursor to the Grand Theft Auto franchise. Your mission as a player was to negotiate a maze of burnt-out streetscapes, spreading mayhem until your thumbs went numb or your parents ordered you outside for some fresh air.

Stephanie Beatriz and Anthony Mackie in Twisted Metal
Stephanie Beatriz and Anthony Mackie in Twisted Metal - Skip Bolen/Peacock/Sony

Twisted Metal the TV show is brought to the screen by the producers of the Deadpool movies starring Ryan Reynolds, and holds true to its pixelated predecessor’s manic qualities: at one point, Sweet Tooth goes on an outrageous dismembering spree with a chainsaw. Limbs are lopped, blood gushes – the entire gory tableau played for laughs. Sensitive viewers may not see the funny side.

A serviceable human interest drama is threaded through, too. Early on, the suspicious Doe takes up with “Quiet” (Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz), an on-the-run urchin pursued by the vengeful Agent Stone (Thomas Haden Church). Mackie and Beatriz have a matey chemistry and their characters’ cautious friendship gives the series its emotional core.

Twisted Metal comes to the UK nearly a year after its debut in the US, where it earned the Peacock streaming service some of its highest ratings ever. It was quickly renewed for a second season, its success in large part due to a cheerful refusal to take itself seriously.

Its popularity also raises the exciting prospect of other quasi-forgotten video games from the past returning as high-end television. What next? A BBC reboot of Jet Set Willy starring Benedict Cumberbatch? Apple TV+ throwing millions at Mike Singleton’s ZX Spectrum favourite The Lords of Midnight? If the thoroughly ridiculous Twisted Metal can ride high three decades after its game debut, surely anything is possible.