As tremendous, and critically well received, as both of Netflix’s Castlevania series have been, you might expect the streamer’s newest video game adaptation from executive producer Adi Shankar to take a similar approach to translating iconic pieces of IP across mediums. But rather than simply staying true to its source material, or thoughtfully updating characters in ways that deepen their canons, Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Remix brilliantly strips its source material for parts and fashions them into a postmodern multimedia experiment whose risky bets pay off big.
Though it’s very loosely based on Far Cry 3’s Blood Dragon standalone expansion from 2013, Netflix’s Captain Laserhawk series pulls from the lore of multiple Ubisoft video games like Watch Dogs, Rayman, and Rainbow Six Siege to tell a story about heroes rallying against an authoritarian power structure.
Set in a dystopian, cyberpunk reality where the United States has become a totalitarian technocracy known as Eden, the series revolves around Dolph Laserhawk (Nathaniel Curtis), a disgraced supersoldier turned criminal whose explosive heists make him one of the world’s most wanted men. As a cybernetically enhanced sharpshooter, steamrolling fleets of Eden’s police officers is light work for Laserhawk and his brick shithouse of a boyfriend, Alex Taylor (Boris Hiestand) — the protagonist of Ubisoft’s 2014 online racer The Crew.
It’s lethally embarrassing for Eden’s cops to be rendered helpless as Laserhawk robs the uber-wealthy in hopes of buying his and Alex’s way out of Eden for good. But when the boys’ final mission goes left, Laserhawk is unexpectedly disappeared to the Supermaxx governmental black site and conscripted into a Suicide Squad-style team of other bomb-rigged prisoners who live and die by the whims of a cruel warden (Caroline Ford).
The impressively batshit action sequence that opens Captain Laserhawk’s premiere establishes just how much heat animation studio Bobbypills and director Mehdi Leffad brought to the project. What’s most immediately striking about the series, though, is its focus on exploring how oppressive societies maintain control over the masses and how those systems of power can be dismantled. It’s darkly funny when Rayman (David Menkin) himself pops onto the screen as the secretly depressed face of Eden’s nightly news bulletins, and you’re supposed to laugh as Laserhawk finds himself being forced to work with an anthropomorphic bullfrog (creative director Yves “Balak” Bigerel) inspired by Assassin’s Creed.
At a glance, Captain Laserhawk’s story and its approach to building out a multiverse seem both silly and potentially exhausting. But by decontextualizing characters like Beyond Good & Evil’s Jade (Courtney-Mae Briggs) and Pey’j (Glenn Wrage) from their original video games, the series is able to make nuanced points about how holding fast to one’s identity is crucial to pushing back against and ultimately toppling tyrannical regimes.
As Laserhawk and his new comrades begin opening up to one another about the multitude of ways that surviving in Eden has shaped their perspectives on life, it becomes clear just how much care the show’s creative team took to make sure that each of them could have been lead characters worthy of the approval of diehard fans.
What’s probably going to stick with many viewers, however, are some of the more ambitious visual gambles Captain Laserhawk makes in its final few (of six) season 1 episodes. It’s worth witnessing the way Captain Laserhawk brilliantly remixes its own visual language firsthand, but you can see some of its most surprising pivots teased all throughout the season in numerous gags that function as both worldbuilding and nods to Ubisoft’s vast library of IP.
It goes without saying that, between the way it focuses on antiestablishment revolutionaries of color and revolves around a pair of hunky dudes who constantly mack on one another, Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Remix is absolutely going to set off the “it’s about ethics in games journalism” crowd that can’t stop (hate)watching Castlevania: Nocturne. But folks with taste and sense are in for a punchy treat with Netflix’s latest — one made all the sweeter by a finale bursting with potential for even more chapters going forward.
Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Remix also stars Mark Ebulué, Adi Shankar, and Daniel York Loh. The show is now streaming on Netflix.