Cinemax’s Strike Back gets off to a familiar start for action movie and spy genre fans – a known terrorist is getting ready to unleash a sinister attack and the best intelligence agents in the business must do whatever it takes to stop him.
However, this simple launching off point is hardly the story you’ll encounter in Cinemax’s first season of the series. What starts off as a Jason Bourne meets 24 tale, quickly becomes something much more as you become fully invested in these characters with each episode. Strike Back deftly mixes action and intrigue with enough sex to make Spartacus jealous. By the finale, this series earns it’s place as one of the most thrilling new series on TV and makes the spy-loving world know that this is far from a cookie-cutter action tale.
And, I have to say, it’s one of the few action series out there that actually gets better the second time you watch it.
Cinemax’s Season One Blu-ray release collects the ten episode series, now entering its second season on the premium network. The season, called Project Dawn in Britain, really functions as five two-hour long movies because each mission is a two-part episode.
The series centers on Section 20, an off the radar British intelligence unit that is billed as more covert than MI6. Under the leadership of the battle-hardened Col. Eleanor Grant (Amanda Mealing), the team hunts down one of the most dangerous terrorists to threaten world peace – Latif (Jimi Mistry). There’s a typical buddy cop pairing between Section 20’s Sgt. Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) and ousted Delta Force member Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton). Stonebridge plays the clean-cut soldier opposite Scott, a badass vet with a knack for bedding every woman he meets while on a mission.
The familiar good cop vs. bad cop dynamic quickly shifts once a conspiracy surfaces. However, the bromance between Scott and Stonebridge never leaves. Winchester and Stapleton develop a uniquely playful banter in the heat of the battle. They’ll seamlessly shift between conspiracy conversation, tactical maneuvers and discussions on parenthood and women without skipping a beat. Yet, the short bouts of comedy never take away from the reality of this epic TV series.
Unlike most American produced series, which take place on studio sets, much of Strike Back’s production takes place in South Africa and Europe. The on-location vibe adds integrity to these episodes, something 24 lost in its final seasons. Viewers will truly feel like they’re watching a movie instead of a TV series, where budgeting concerns limit the use of wide shots and explosions.
Starting with episode four and spiraling through its poignant finale, Strike Back demonstrates that it’s not afraid to take risks as a series. There are real emotional consequences to everyone’s actions – even if they may recover from gunshot wounds faster than ordinary people.
The rich roster of guest stars keeps the adrenaline flowing throughout the season. Iain Glen (Game of Thrones), Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones) and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Lost) all deliver spectacular, albeit sinister performances.
Sadly, the Blu-ray release doesn’t come with any behind-the-scenes featurettes. However there are five audio commentaries with the cast and crew, paired with the second episode of each mission. These are fun to listen to and a joy for fans. However, it would be great if we got to see some on-location footage.
If you like gritty TV and want the feel of the movie theater at home then turn to Strike Back: Project Dawn. It delivers.