True Justice Review
Steven Seagal’s Soldier of Vengeance. Aka. True Justice: Season 2 – Vengeance is Mine. Aka True Justice: Season 2 – The Ghost. Or something.
I had a dream. In that dream, all of a sudden, Seagal’s TV series True Justice got really, really good. The production budget went up, Seagal started putting some serious effort into the role, and the fight scenes were impressive – just like the good old days again. I found myself telling all my friends about True Justice, trying to persuade them that it was worth their time; worth checking out. But none of them would believe me.
Then I woke up.
The reality is that the best episode in the entire first season of this show has never even been released in the UK (not even as part of the mislabelled ‘collection’). It’s called Payback, and it is episode 13, the Season 1 finale, which ends on a cliffhanger. This new title – oddly released not only before Payback but also before the August release of Season 1’s episodes 9 and 10 (Death Riders aka Brotherhood) – is actually the season 2 premiere, concluding the cliffhanger story of Season 1’s Payback. Thankfully, even for those who didn’t get to watch Payback on TV, the beginning of the second season throws up plenty of flashback clips to bring you up to speed.
For those of you who need a quick refresher, the first season of True Justice followed Seagal’s ex-black ops cop, Elijah Kane, and his elite unit as they took on organised crime in Seattle. The finale had a Russian ex-Spetsnaz hit-squad assault Kane’s cop-house and shoot up most of his team. Although they somehow manage to overcome the hit-squad, the leader dies throwing a couple of grenades at Kane and his already-bullet-perforated team members. Fade out.
Whilst the title on the Blu-ray cover of this release is ‘Soldier of Vengeance’, take a quick look at the back cover of the Blu-ray and you’ll see the production credits list it as ‘True Justice: Vengeance is Mine’. Further confusion comes from the actual titles sequence, which shows us both True Justice: Season 2 – The Ghost and also “Vengeance is Mine” as a later subtitle. Worse of all, the disc itself has True Justice, The Ghost, Vengeance is Mine and, in brackets, Soldier of Vengeance ALL written on it. I kid you not. Who knows which is correct, suffice to say the season 2 premiere – and, I suspect, the entire second season – is about Seagal chasing after an elusive old black ops opponent called ‘The Ghost’, who targeted his team, and plotting his ‘Vengeance’ (I guess Vengeance against The Ghost would have been a little supernatural for a title, and also defeated the Seagal 3-word-title Rule).
The Season 1 finale’s cliffhanger left us unclear as to who survived the assault, but the double-funeral at the start of this chapter makes no bones about who is going to be starring in this sophomore year – with Kane going off on his own, being approached by Marcus, one of his old black-ops associates (who popped up in the first season), to head up a new covert Government unit, and eventually pulling in surviving team member Sarah to help him out with his new recruits.
“They say if your enemy’s hungry, feed him; if he’s thirsty, give him something to drink – then they become complacent, and then you kill them.”
Vengeance is Mine mitigates its necessary-but-clichéd ‘getting a new team together’ plot with a more interesting twist-conclusion to the Season 1 finale. Whilst the grander scheme to the Russian hit squad actions will no doubt play out over the course of the entire second season (Kane is offered the chance to ‘find the people who killed his team’, which obviously means the men behind the squad, as the squad themselves are dead), we get a more immediately satisfying bit of closure as the leader of the ex-Spetsnaz team is shown to still be alive.
Despite having been stabbed by a samurai sword, and then shot twice – both at the hands of Seagal’s Kane himself – before possibly being blown up by his own grenades, somehow the guy survived and escaped. He’s now holed-up in a motel, looking for help from his handlers, but, after drawing unnecessary attention to himself by taking out a couple of patrolmen, he finds himself under fire from a SWAT team. They come unprepared though, as he’s rigged the motel with explosives. It’s up to Kane to single-handedly take down the villain, once and for all.
Meanwhile plenty of old characters from the show are brought back in to round out the plot. Ally MacBeal’s Gil Bellows returns with his terrible Russian accent (he was the main villain in the Season 1 pilot), as does one of the early informants from the first year, and, of course, the shady, black-ops CIA operator, Marcus. After the great first part, however, the second episode is – expectedly – more concerned with Kane’s recruitment of some new operators to round out his team. Although they don’t exactly make up for the loss of Warren Christie’s Radner (Christie has done a couple of movies – including Apollo 18 and This Means War – and was probably preoccupied with the far more mainstream TV show, Alphas), Meghan Ory’s Juliet (similarly becoming a regular on the more prominent TV series, Once Upon a Time), and William ‘Big Sleeps’ Stewart, the newcomers are all reasonably engaging, and their graduation to joining the team is smoothed out by the presence of returning actress Sarah Lind, as show regular, Sarah.
Amidst the new blood, we get Tanaya Beatty (Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1) as the cute tech support, who actually manages to showcase some nice chemistry and snappy exchanges with Seagal’s old-enough-to-be-her-grandfather Kane; and bit-part actors Lochlyn Munro (who has had small roles in a broad spectrum of movies – everything from Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven to Steve Austin’s Recoil) and Jesse Hutch (everything from The Butterfly Effect to Seagal’s own A Dangerous Man) come as a double-team, which makes for some interesting dynamics between them. Clearly the injection of humour that the show arguably actually needs is going to come from this pair, and, thus far, they show promise – managing to have witty but not too irritating banter, whilst also coming across as decent operators (the recruitment ‘montage’ that sees Kane plough through a bunch of other recruits to get to these two is quite engaging). Of course Adrian Holmes’s Marcus is clearly now going to be more of a regular, and it would certainly be nice to see him pairing up with Seagal’s Kane for a couple of more high profile actions – his participation in the season premiere is a little too ineffectual.
It’s actually in the recruitment of new team members that Seagal’s own police experience – 25 years of working as a real Sheriff – comes in handy, grounding the scenes of target practice, training and house-clearing tactics (as well as weapons switching, from left to right-hand handling) with a firm sense of realism and authenticity. The dialogue has also clearly been enhanced by Seagal’s own tweaks – although there’s a little too much dubbed non-Seagal ADR for my liking – and this technical input lends a nice edge to the proceedings.
Of course Seagal fans can’t forget about the action, and this release is marginally lacking in terms of fight scenes – even if the actual story is more interesting than the series has previously been known for. That said, the action we do get is pretty good. Director Keoni Waxman (who directed a couple of Seagal’s better recent DTV offerings – The Keeper and A Dangerous Man – and will direct him opposite Steve Austin in the upcoming Maximum Conviction) is one of the more reliable action directors working on the show, and he gives us a suitably satisfying final face-off between Seagal’s Kane and the surviving Spetsnaz villain (Seagal regular Igor Jijikine, from Driven to Kill but also Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull and Jason Statham’s Safe) from the Season 1 finale. Again, Seagal brings his clear police and weapons experience into play, using a strange hand-held implement that looks a little like the skull-cracker bit you might see on some knives, only without the blade part. The fight is long and well-choreographed, with Seagal on surprisingly fast and furious form, executing some beautifully brutal moves. Although there are few other bouts of hand-to-hand combat, there are a couple of nice shooting sequences which Seagal executes well.
Season 2 of Seagal’s True Justice has certainly gotten off to a good start. It’s still nowhere near the kind of show that I’d happily recommend as premium viewing, but it has grown over the last couple of years, and it’s nice to see Seagal do something with a regular, decent level of quality to it. It’s consistent viewing – fans know what to expect – and Season 2 even shows a marked improvement over the first year, where the stories generally averaged the 4-5/10 scoring band: not quite bad, but certainly not particularly good in any kind of noteworthy way (although they did get better towards the end). Since the series is still being treated so badly when it comes to releases – StudioCanal still insist upon botching it all up by promoting the TV show as a series of Seagal movies, and releasing it out of order to boot – and since home format fans have never even had the opportunity to see the excellent, action-packed finale to the first season, there’s no way this release is going to score any higher. But if you follow the show, that shouldn’t put you off – this is definitely one of the best double-episodes thus far, and things certainly bode well for the rest of season 2.
If you’re an avid fan of Seagal, you’re probably already heavily embroiled in the twisted world of True Justice’s release schedule, but if you just haven’t gotten around to it, then this is not the place to start. Go out and import the first season box set. If you like it, then pick this title up to get a taste of what the sophomore year is like. Seagal may not have a spectacular comeback planned for his 60th year on the planet – although Maximum Conviction, the upcoming pairing with wrestler Steve Austin, looks a cut above his recent DTV efforts, it won’t make up for his conspicuous absence from the Expendables movies, and his failure to capitalise on the prominence of 2010’s Machete – but at least he’s still got a regular output, a small but noteworthy silver lining that should keep his fans happy for some time yet.
For those who want a clearer list of the episodes and their confusing release schedule (don’t ask me what happened to Season One, episode 13), then this is the order in which they have been released on Blu-ray, complete with the relevant review links to my earlier reviews:
1. Deadly Crossing (Season One, episodes 1 and 2)
2. Street Wars (Season One, episodes 5 and 6)
3. Dark Vengeance (Season One, episodes 3 and 4)
4. Lethal Justice (Season One, episodes 7 and 8)
5. Urban Warfare (Season One, episodes 11 and 12)
6. Soldier of Vengeance (Season Two, episodes 1 and 2)
7. Death Riders (Season One, episodes 9 and 10)