It would be easy to call Cinemax’s original series, Strike Back, derivative entertainment. After all, the series is clearly borrowing more than a few pages from franchises like Rambo, The Expendables, 24, MacGyver, James Bond, Call of Duty and literally dozens of others. And usually this sort of obvious creative theft warrants more than a few rightfully deserved criticisms. But somehow Strike Back defies the odds.
The show is so well shot and executed, the flaws aren’t nearly as distracting as one would expect. Instead, Strike Back is a balls-to-wall hardcore brainless action series that plays like Roger Corman, by way of big-budget popcorn entertainment. And while the results are often flimsy in the story department, the series serves up loads of intense, pulse-pounding mayhem.
Despite the “Season One” moniker, Strike Back: Cinemax Season One is actually the second series of a BBC show of the same name. As it turns out, the original series was so popular that it spawned this show, a joint venture between Cinemax and the British network, Sky1. This version of Strike Back is largely a reboot of the show, with only one major character returning, and only for a few brief moments. In the UK, this season of Strike Back is referred to as Strike Back: Project Dawn.
For those unaware, Strike Back follows an elite team of soldiers working for a super secret branch of MI6 called Section 20. The season is broken into five two-part episodes. Each episode traditionally deals with the usual Call of Duty-style action as our heroes hunt the bad guys, mostly terrorists. The beauty of the two-part system is that if you don’t end up liking one particular arch, no worries. Another one pops up in just an episode or two.
The characters of the series are mostly flimsy one-dimensional cliches, from the womanizing super solider to his strict “by-the-book” partner – we’ve seen it all before. But instead of pretending the show has any real deep meaning or value to add to these tired archetypes, Strike Back focuses on eye candy of all varieties, be it extreme action set pieces, gratuitous nudity (just about every woman throws herself at the main character) or nasty war violence. The obvious tone adds a sort of comic book feel that lends itself to overall enjoyment of the series, despite the story and character limitations.
Whichever way you cut it, Strike Back makes no excuses for itself – it’s a slam-bang James Bond action series, with soldiers instead of classy, well-dressed spies. And the show delivers just enough awesome to keep things fun. The show is dumb, but it seems very aware of that fact, and sometimes that’s quite refreshing in its own way.
Strike Back: Cinemax Season One arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of HBO and Cinemax Home Entertainment. The series is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, encoded in 1080p/AVC and mixed in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The season’s 10 episodes are spread across four discs.
Shot in HD, Strike Back looks incredibly clean and sharp, with a nuanced theatrical appearance that adds an A-grade charm to the B-level entertainment. The encode is detailed and colorful, with not a hint of artifacting, banding or other annoying distractions. Image depth can get a little flat at times, and some minor motion blur was detected, but this is an otherwise terrific presentation right on par with other HBO releases.
Audio is even sharper, rich with lively atmosphere, perfect mixing and crystal clear dialogue. Action cues are aggressive and engaging, layered with awesome surround usage and intense bass. Rarely, if ever, does this track disappoint. So turn down the lights and crank up your receiver and let Strike Back knock you off your socks.
Extras for this release include five cast and crew commentary tracks spread throughout the season. The tracks are pretty solid, if a little repetitive. The set also includes a DVD and Digital Copy of the season — a nice added bonus I wish were a standard on all TV releases.
Strike Back: Season One is a mindless action series, but it’s just as enjoyable as B-movie thrillers like Taken or TV shows like 24. With a pretty heavy comic book/James Bond feel, the show delivers plenty of fun, plenty of action, and plenty of wild violence, sex and mayhem.
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