Adi Shankar’s work as an executive producer is genuinely impressive, especially because his name is attached to some of my favorite movies. The Grey is one of the best survival movies. Dredd is hugely underrated, and it’s a brilliant one-location action extravaganza. Killing Them Softly is a blistering critique of the United States of America. You’ll probably be surprised to know that he backed the most iconic Bollywood film, Gangs of Wasseypur. The Voices is one of the most overlooked films in Ryan Reynolds’ filmography, and you should definitely check it out. After entering the animated landscape, he has seemingly become an even bigger figure in the world of entertainment. He has delivered four amazing seasons of Castlevania. He has followed that up recently with Castlevania: Nocturne. And as if that’s not enough, Shankar and his team have dropped one of the best shows of all time in the form of Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Remix.
Based on Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Adi Shankar’s Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Remix takes place in 1992, where the United States of America has been turned into a fascist, cyberpunk hellscape by a megacorporation called Eden (which happens to be the name the USA goes by). Dolph Laserhawk and his boyfriend, Alex Taylor, are part of the revolution that was started by Marcus Holloway. They go on a mission to steal a device that’ll give them the upper hand in the fight against fascists. But Taylor betrays Laserhawk, thereby sending him to the Supermaxx prison, where he is joined by Jade, Pey’j, Bullfrog, and Cody Rhodes. That’s where they meet Sarah Fisher, aka The Warden. And from the get-go, she makes it clear that if the prisoners step out of line, she’s going to blow their heads off, literally. So, to avoid getting killed rather ceremoniously, the prisoners have to do the warden’s bidding. Laserhawk isn’t all that interested in this proposition. However, when he sees there’s an opportunity to get back at Taylor, he falls in line.
Adi Shankar, along with Alex Larsen, Samuel Laskey, and Craig Coyne, don’t hide their influences while telling the story of Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Remix. For starters, anthropomorphic animals coexisting with humans is very Looney Tunes-esque in nature. The whole premise of a tech-loving corporation controlling a country that’s slowly losing its sense of autonomy is reminiscent of Blade Runner. You don’t have to be a genius to see the parallels between the show’s expendable group of assassins and The Suicide Squad. The Niji 6, which is a group of law enforcers, are clearly a parody of Power Rangers. And then there’s the VR facility, which is an obvious hat-tip to The Matrix. But does the show have anything substantial to say? Yes, it does. The writers talk about fascism, capitalism, and the consequences of embracing them because, unlike democracies, which serve the people, corporations serve the highest bidder. And if the highest bidder wants to indiscriminately kill people, discriminate against other races, and cross all kinds of moral boundaries because they can afford it, then that’s going to happen, whether we like it or not.
Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Remix’s major focus is on the media and how it is used to manipulate people from a very young age, which is ironic because it’s a show airing on Netflix, which is a streaming platform that is probably aiming to do the same thing. Through the character of Rayman, the writers point towards affable talk show hosts who sometimes parrot majoritarian opinions and even bring on wannabe dictators and megalomaniacs masquerading as businessmen to make them look cute because it’ll benefit them in some sick and twisted way. They actually go a step further and show the pitfalls of internalized racism and the unending nature of appeasement. Through Alex, Sarah, and Marcus, the series shows the difference between revolution and radicalism. But, amidst all this bleakness, it aggressively hopes for a better and freer future. All this heavy commentary is accentuated by the jaw-dropping animation, which switches between traditional 2D animation and pixelated graphics from various types of games like it’s nothing. Director Mehdi Leffad and his team of animators, editors, sound designers, character designers, art directors, inbetweeners, background artists, storyboard artists, compositors, and 3D artists have truly knocked it out of the park. I don’t think I’ll surprise anyone by saying this is one of the best shows of the year.
The voice cast of Captain Laserhawk series is perfect. Nathaniel Curtis absolutely kills it as Dolph Laserhawk. The way he traces the character’s transformation from a nonchalant vigilante to a rebel who is genuinely invested in the cause is fascinating to watch. Balak is hilarious as Bullfrog. Adi Shankar as Red had me in splits. The character is always whining because he isn’t as good as Dolph. He wears a helmet which kind of distorts Adi’s voice. So, it always seems like he is on the verge of tears, and that’s just incredibly funny to me. Boris Hiestand as Alex Taylor is smooth. I think he should’ve had more screen time. The same can be said about Mark Ebulue as Marcus Holloway. Caroline Ford as Sarah Fisher/The Warden is fantastic. There was a moment when she got to pull off her proverbial mask, and her tone sent chills down my spine. David Menkin, as Rayman, pretty much steals the show. Menkin’s “talk show host” voice and his unhinged maniac voice are excellent. Courtney Mae-Briggs as Jade and Violet, Glenn Wrage as Pey’j, Daniel York Loh as Pagan Min, and the work done by Kosha Engler, Steven Hartley, Rasmus Hardiker, Kevin Howarth, Olivia Vinall, Mark Ebulue, John Schwab, Gary Martin, Joseph May, Shai Matheson, Trevor Dion Nicholas, and Yoann Perrier is worth applauding as well.
Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Remix is a stunning show with a rebellious heart beating at its core. The visual storytelling is astonishing. The images that the team, led by Adi Shankar, manages to conjure are nothing short of magical. The characters, the themes, and the overall journey are relatable, bleak, and inspirational. It doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel because reality has sort of caught up with dystopian science fiction. There’s no point in making us imagine what our future can look like because we are literally living in a post-apocalyptic, fascist world. So, it’s a great thing that the series focuses on generating emotions that affect us on a deeply personal level. It shows us that even when all hope is lost, betrayal is going to hurt, and the tiniest sliver of resistance is going to motivate us. And it’s up to us what we will choose to champion during times of crisis: loyalty towards soulless corporations or solidarity with the common folk.