A high-production-value modern TV series from Syfy that – despite bold risks that sometimes pay off and sometimes don’t with a decent cast – ironically plays down the science-fiction & kooky charms of the beloved time-travel original. 7.8/10.
Plot Synopsis: A man from the post-apocalyptic future, Cole uses a dangerous, untested method of time travel to get from 2043 to the present day. He is on a mission to locate and rid the world of the source of the plague that will eventually annihilate the human race. Assisting him is Dr. Cassandra Railly, a virologist who must decide whether to do harm in order to save the world — regardless of the fact that she has taken the Hippocratic oath. The sci-fi series is based on Terry Gilliam’s 1995 film, which starred Bruce Willis as Cole.
*Possible Spoilers Ahead*
The film that arguably popularized Sci-Fi and Time-Travel in general media with A-list Hollywood moviestars, 1995’s 12 Monkeys was a hammerhead achievement in the genre. Now, 20 years later, there’s a remake – and, brilliantly, a TV series to expand the mythology and try something completely new. The result is a fine TV series that, of course, can’t compete fully with an Academy Award-nom’d Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis, jaw-dropping plot-twisted, multi-interpretive ending classic movie, but takes just enough risks to spice up the concept while also taking it in exciting, new fleshed-out directions. A high-production-value modern TV series from Syfy that – despite bold risks that sometimes pay off and sometimes don’t with a decent cast – ironically plays down the science-fiction and kooky charms of its beloved original.
For Syfy, the production-value is unbelievably good – the series feels high-budget and able to push the limits of modern technology and CGI/VFX in things like its time-travel sequences into something beautiful from its first paradox slow-mo stopwatch sequence. Dramatically-above most of its subpar visual offerings, the package given to 12 Monkeys certainly does it justice in the ocular department. The score is aptly-cinematic, piggy-backing off its visual package to give blockbuster feel and most of all: thankfully reworking the original cheesy accordion theme nicely into a modern electronic context that gels nicely with its more minimal aesthetic approach here.
The actors are pretty good – obviously no competition against the mythic Oscar-level cast of the original film but serviceable in their own right. Aaron Stanford’s Winter Soldier-esque reinterpretation of Cole is clearly the highlight (especially seeing as how, world-famous movie-star and all, Willis seemed a little out of his element there instead of macho-movies like Die Hard), Zeljvko Ivanek’s Leland Goines (given far too little a cameo), Amanda Schull’s unoriginal Felicity Smoak-copy but fine Railly, and Emily Hampshire’s gender-flipped and batsh*t-crazy Je(nn)y Goines. That brings me to the twists and liberties it takes with its source material: there is certainly no lack of imagination it takes in that department. The show does what all reboots, spinoffs, and sequels should: expand the mythology and even reinvent/add to the original lore, and it does deserve serious praise for that, some of them necessary to stretch the 2-hr film into a 4-season series while others just sheer brilliant in reimagining the virus, 12 Monkeys, and story.
For a series on a network called Syfy, it doesn’t lean nearly enough on its S(ci)-F(i) roots – with a bad S1-start that teams-up Cole/Railly too fast and often ignores the most fascinating part of the lore by far: the virus. Perhaps the most disappointing part though is that they erased the multi-interpretability that made the original so jaw-droppingly twisty and evil – with Jones and co. being boxed into a written room of wanting to save humanity instead of the plane-ending of the movie that left it up to ambiguity and them maybe wanting it to happen. The set pieces and design are also strikingly-less imaginative and inspirational – shocking, considering the writer’s room personified the antithesis of it taking the story in all kinds of wild directions.
Overall though, 12 Monkeys is a spirit TV series certainly better than most of the few sci-fi shows out there – and one that differentiates itself quickly from its original while pushing the boundaries (to sometimes good, sometimes great, sometimes bad results, all whom need to have been followed by watching the original film first to fully-appreciate/understand them). A high-production-value modern TV series from Syfy that – despite bold risks that sometimes pay off and sometimes don’t with a decent cast – ironically plays down the science-fiction & kooky charms of the beloved original. This 13th Monkey at least adds something to the franchise and lore, although the original is still ~far-superior.
Official CLC Score: 7.8/10