Chris Ryan's Strike Back - Zimbabwe: Episodes 3 and 4 reviewed
Review by Jack Foley
FOUR episodes in and Chris Ryan’s Strike Back has settled into a pretty obvious – but no less enjoyable – routine.
As central protagonist John Porter (Richard Armitage) goes from country to country on do-or-die missions, the first hour comprises mostly set-up and the second all out action.
Hence, part one of Zimbabwe found Porter going undercover in a high-security prison in order to break out the British man [Shaun Parkes’ Masuku] accused of attempting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe, while part two found the men on the run from various troops led by David Harewood’s ruthless Colonel Tshuma.
The ensuing two hours were loaded with macho heroics, political intrigue, betrayal, deceit and death.
For the most part, this was superbly well put together with the sun-baked African locations providing an unforgiving backdrop to the action taking centre stage.
The battle of wits between Armitage’s Porter and Andrew Lincoln’s Hugh Collinson continued to build nicely, and served as a nice simmering back story, while the camaraderie that gradually built between Porter and Masuku was pretty good fun.
Admittedly, elements of the story did grate and stretch credibility to breaking point. Some of the script is pretty lightweight, while certain characters feel hopelessly short-changed (not least Shelley Conn’s sex toy Danni).
The use of an African tracker to hunt Porter and Masuku, while exciting, also strained credibility once the pursuers got into a motor vehicle and then stopped at exactly the right point for the tracker to pick up the trail once again.
But there’s no denying the quality of the action, during which Strike Back really comes alive. Indeed, it’s then that the central characters are really put through their paces, as loyalties, motives and ethics are tested in the thick of the fight.
Porter, for instance, was moved to put the safety of some Aids orphans above his mission to extract Masuku, while also putting his own life on the line. And yet he still found himself being slapped across the face by a disapproving nun, who wondered whether he was a good man or an evil one. She certainly didn’t like the ease with which he killed.
Strike Back, as a whole, could benefit from a little more soul-searching moments such as these… and a few less glib comments that lessen the overall quality of the set-up.
But it exists to entertain rather than deliver any really probing insight into the delicate politics it’s involved in. Rather, it’s a blunt instrument, much like the central character it depicts.
As much of a missed opportunity this occasionally feels, there’s more than enough to applaud in the high production values and the heightened sense of excitement – the programme genuinely keeps you on your toes and contains some thrilling sequences (watch Porter and Masuku’s last stand in this episode for an example).
The quality of its cast also helps to paper over the lacklustre nature of the script, with Lincoln playing things suitably close to his chest as the ‘villain’ and the likes of Jodhi May and, in this episode, Shaun Parkes providing full-blooded support.
What’s more, with only two episodes to go (set in Afghanistan), the stage is well and truly set for an explosive finale. Let’s hope it continues to deliver the goods.
Chris Ryan’s Strike Back is on Sky1 on Wednesday nights from 9pm. This review relates to the opening two episodes on May 12, 2010.
- Strike Back - First two hours reviewed
- Dhafer L'Abidine interview
- Strike Back - Episodes 3 & 4 (Zimbabwe) reviewed
- Strike Back - Episodes 5 & 6 (Afghanistan) reviewed