It may be mildly less interesting without Scott and Stonebridge but there is no denying that Strike Back is one of the most ambitious and consistently entertaining action series of recent times.
I’ve spent the past few weeks watching every episode of Strike Back as I feel as an action site we need a comprehensive review of one of the best action shows of recent times. So sit back, grab a few beers and some popcorn as this is going to be a long, 8 season ride.
Be warned I go into MAJOR spoilers here so don’t blame me if anything is ruined for you.
Chris Ryan’s Strike Back AKA Strike Back: Origins
‘Strike Back: Origins’ is a compelling story of betrayal, glory, redemption and revenge played out through the interlinking lives of two former soldiers: military hero Major Hugh Collinson and discharged veteran John Porter.
On the eve of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, John Porter (Richard Armitage) leads a Special Forces Unit on a daring hostage rescue mission into the heart of Basra, culminating in a disastrous turn of events for him and Collinson (Andrew Lincoln). Porter bares the burden of guilt, with the repercussions haunting him for years, until an opportunity presents itself to return to Iraq and redeem himself. After seven years apart, Porter and Collinson’s lives are about to collide once again…
Before he was Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit Richard Armitage was John Porter in Chris Ryan’s Strike Back (based on his book of the same name). This was also before the Cinemax series but is connected to it as Porter is the character who is executed in the opening few minutes of the second season with Stonebridge and Scott.
This first season is only six episodes long and is less graphic in terms of sex and violence compared to the Cinemax show but is every bit as action packed and entertaining.
This season came out in 2010 and starts off with John Porter leading his unit into battle trying to rescue the CEO of a British weapons manufacturing company captured in Iraq, just before the invasion started. His team is joined by Hugh Collinson, operative of British military intelligence. The operation almost goes awry when Collinson kills some of Porter’s team, and blames a teenage suicide bomber, As’ad, who Porter previously saved.
Porter leaves the military in disgrace blaming himself for the death of his men and everyone else holds him responsible too. We move on seven years later and Collinson is the head of Section 20 while Porter is doing meaningless jobs now that his wife and daughter have left him. When a reporter is kidnapped in Iraq she takes a picture of one of her kidnappers and it turns out to be As’ad. Porter finds out and wants to be reactivated so he meets up with Collinson who eventually agrees to let him back in as they are out of options. So begins Porter’s redemption as he goes to Iraq to save the reporter while also trying to reunite with As’ad.
Each storyline to this season is two episodes long with the first two in Iraq, the next 2 in Zimbabwe and the final two in Afghanistan; this is a pattern the series will continue as it goes on.
John Porter is clearly a man with skills and Richard Armitage is well cast with his brooding demeanor. Of the three storylines I enjoyed the Zimbabwe one the most as it was quite similar to The Rock in terms of story. Porter is tasked with infiltrating a prison and helping a British spy Felix Masuku (Shaun Parkes) escape but as always things don’t go to plan. I enjoy the two characters’ banter and they made for a good team so it’s too bad they only got to share these two episodes together.
The final episodes in Afghanistan feature Ewen Bremner as Gerald Baxter, a hacker who has gone rogue and we are never quite sure what he will do next. Bremner is perfectly cast making Baxter rather mad and unpredictable but still appealing at the same time. He also shares some great lines with Porter especially the X-Factor moment which was hilariously random.
Andrew Lincoln’s character Collinson is fascinating as you expect him to be a real villain but his motivations when they are revealed at the end make him more of a pathetic sort who finds redemption at the end.
Colin Salmon always seems to appear in every British TV series or film featuring spies which makes me think he must be a spy himself. I’m on to you, Colin! Anyway, he always brings dignity to every role and he has an amazing voice which commands authority.
The action is all done for real with practical explosions, a few punch ups and near-constant shoot-outs. Although it shows an early version of Section 20 the feel of this season is quite different from the Cinemax show but if you’re a completist like me you should watch this first just you understand that Porter is so much more than just the guy who gets killed off early.
The performances and dialogue are all first rate and it’s too bad Porter dies in the next season as I would have enjoyed watching him evade the American military which is where the story was headed.
Overall, Strike Back: Origins Season 1 is less graphic in terms of the content but it still has engaging stories, memorable characters and most importantly a lot of action.
Strike Back: Project Dawn
So begins the Cinemax series of Strike Back and the adventures of Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) and Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester). It’s funny, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I found out that Winchester is in fact American as he does a faultless English accent and feels totally authentic as Stonebridge.
Sullivan Stapleton’s accent occasionally slips and he says “buddy” far too much but I love these two characters more than anything. Damien Scott is an old-fashioned action hero character like John McClane where he smokes, bangs anything with a pulse, literally laughs in the face of danger and kills without remorse. We discover that he was dishonourably discharged from the military after drugs were found in his locker and he has vowed to find the people who set him up.
Both characters are deeply flawed with Stonebridge having an affair with a work colleague despite him having a wife so he is a little hard to sympathise with at first and Scott appears to be a sex addict who can’t keep his pants on for one episode. Admittedly this does get tiresome after a while, but it does provide lots of nudity which is no bad thing.
Continuing on after season 1, Stonebridge recruits help from Ex-Delta Force operative Scott when Section 20 agent John Porter (Richard Armitage) is kidnapped and executed by a Pakistani terrorist. The two then uncover clues to a possible attack at a New Delhi hotel and race to foil it. They are helped by Eleanor Grant (head of Section 20), Major Oliver Sinclair and several others who make up the team and essentially guide Scott and Stonebridge on their various missions.
Like the first season there is a larger story at play here with Section 20 trying to track down mysterious terrorist Latif but there are contained tales that take place over two episodes each and are all connected.
The first two take place in the hotel in Delhi and feel more like a Die Hard movie than the last official sequel with Stonebridge and Scott trying to stop the terrorists from detonating a bomb inside it.
Latif always seems one step ahead but that’s because there may be someone in Section 20 with their own agenda. We find out that one of the men helping them (Jimi Mistri) is in fact Latif and has been playing them all along.
Despite Scott and Stonebridge having their flaws they are born to be soldiers and will not let innocent people be harmed, no matter what which is demonstrated perfectly in these first two episodes as they protect kids and women from the bad guys.
Every episode of this show manages to be nail bitingly intense as we’re never quite sure who to trust or who will live to see the end credits. We never go more than a few minutes without an action scene so there are regular shoot-outs, fights and chases with some awesome explosions thrown in too.
Episodes 3 and 4 are my personal favourites because they feature Game of Thrones alumni and one of the most underappreciated actors working today, Liam Cunningham who plays ex-IRA terrorist Daniel Connolly. He is one of nastiest villains of the entire series and is a far more intimidating presence than Latif but he is working with him in trying to acquire WMDs. Connolly never leaves any witnesses to his acts and the violence is never less than disturbing especially the truck heist scene which is one of the most brutal moments of the show. We also lose a member of Section 20 with Stonebridge forced to make an impossible decision.
Episodes 5 and 6 are also awesome as they have Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Tahir, the monstrous leader of the Janjaweed group who are as ruthless as can be killing and raping on a regular basis. They kidnap a Doctor named Clare Somersby who is the daughter of arms dealer Crawford (played by another Game of Thrones cast member Iain Glenn). Stonebridge and Scott pose as aides for Crawford to negotiate the release of his daughter, but as expected things do not go as planned. Once again there are moments that will have you on the edge of your seat as Stonebridge and Scott try to rescue the girl. Both men take their share of pain in this series getting shot, beat up and more yet like any action hero they just keep coming.
I thought Crawford was a fascinating character as he has done his share of misdeeds but will do anything for his daughter who turned her back on him for the life he has led so he wants to make things right.
Episodes 7 and 8 take place in Kosovo where Stonebridge and Scott exchange a prisoner for kidnapped European Union officials. As always their plan goes awry and the two men end up getting betrayed and taken hostage but God himself can’t stop Scott and Stonebridge who find a way to save the day, kill the bad guys and rescue the rest of the hostages. Scott even falls for one of the girls who was kidnapped which is rare as he normally just uses women for sex then discards them. Despite his flaws as a human being he is still a loveable asshole and it’s hard not to root for him.
The final two episodes have the team scrambling to catch Latif and he ends up getting captured… but perhaps that is what he wanted? We find out who was behind setting up Scott and it’s a race against time to prevent VX gas being unleashed in Budapest.
Overall, Strike Back is one of the best action shows of all-time with Scott and Stonebridge making for a great buddy duo as they hurl abuse and banter at each other in-between slaughtering the bad guys. Both men have questionable morals but they’re the type of people required for the work they do. Every episode is a shot of adrenaline with near constant action and gripping storylines to keep you engaged throughout.
Strike Back: Vengeance
Season 3 is another winner with Stonebridge and Scott back again; this time they are trying to save Africa from a nuclear attack by Conrad Knox (played by the ever-awesome Charles Dance). I really enjoyed the villains from this season with Knox coming across as an intelligent, charming gentleman who is disillusioned with the way corporations have destroyed Africa however, as the plot unfolds we find out that his plan is truly diabolical.
His henchman Matlock (Vincent Regan) is also not quite what he seems at first but in this case although he does a lot of bad things he does have a code and sense of honour making him feel like a real person rather than a cartoon villain. Regan is another British actor putting on an accent and he seems to be channeling Michael Madsen but it works and he is one of the best additions to this season.
Then we have the psychotic Hanson (Shane Taylor) who blames Stonebridge for killing his brother even though he had lost his mind and killed his own team during a training exercise. This leads us to the most devastating moment of the series (so far) as Hanson kills Stonebridge’s wife Kerry in cold blood. This puts Stonebridge on edge throughout this season as all he wants to do is take out Hanson who shows up in Africa to work with Knox.
As shocking as that scene is I was more upset at the death of Sinclair (Rhashan Stone) who had become one of my favourite characters; in season 1 we weren’t sure if he could be trusted or not but by this season we knew he was a true blue hero and a damn good soldier. These events keep you on your toes sort of life Game of Thrones where no one is safe and could be killed off at any time.
We find out more about Scott’s past and how he worked for the C.I.A. for years as an assassin and he is haunted by some of the deeds he committed. He is reunited with his old C.I.A. comrade who may or may not be playing both sides; obviously he has sex with her because he’s Scott and that’s what he does. He must have every conceivable STD in the book and I feel like I’ve seen Sullivan Stapleton’s bare arse more than his wife has by now…
The best addition to the cast this season is Rhona Mitra who plays Dalton, the tough as nails new head of Section 20 who has trouble getting her team to trust her, especially Sinclair who questions her decisions regularly.
It’s great to see Paul Freeman (Belloch from Raiders of the Lost Ark) in a sizeable role; he has had a rather lowkey career since Raiders but has starred in the likes of Double Team opposite Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Although the story does get dark at times we do still get the trademark banter between Scott and Stonebridge with one highlight being the references to Lethal Weapon but also Scott’s classic line “he’s not gay, he’s British but it’s an easy mistake to make”.
The action this time takes us to Algeria, Zimbabwe and South Africa and although there are still the two episode storylines the main plot with Knox is always to the fore so this season feels more like one story.
Once again the action is superlative with regular shoot-outs, fistfights and explosions; the pacing is always tight and there is never a dull moment throughout.
Strike Back: Shadow Warfare
Season 4 may well be the best yet in terms of action as they really up the scale and my hat goes off to Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester who seem to be doing the majority of their own stunts. The most impressive sequence involves a train where they are fighting and shooting their way through some bad guys as they try to stop a virus being unleashed. Another incredible sequence is the mortar attack in Hungary as it shows that Section 20 don’t always win and stop the bad guys in time.
Speaking of villains, we’ve got some doozies this season with Dougray Scott playing a nasty piece of work called James Leatherby; he’s a former special operative who got left behind and has been bitter about it ever since. It’s a shame he was only in two episodes as I would have preferred him to be the big bad rather than yet another Jihadist antagonist which has been done to death.
Throughout the season we’re wondering if Leo Kamali (Zubin Varla) can be trusted or if he really is connected to terrorist al-Zuhari so there are various twists and turns to keep you guessing. Scott forms a bond with Leo’s daughter Ester and then we find out that Scott has a son of his own and that he’s actually a deadbeat dad who took off when the child was born.
Mairead McKenna (Catherine Walker) is one of the best female villains I’ve seen for some time as everything she says is with pure venomous hatred; she’s part of the Real IRA and working with the terrorists and she also kills Dalton (Rhona Mitra) in another one of the shows most shocking moments.
This gives us the new head of Section 20 Phillipe Locke (played by Robson Greene) who brings some sanity to proceedings but as always he has his own baggage wanting revenge for the death of his son who was murdered by the IRA.
A lot happens in this season which I’m not going into here but we get some great character moments even seeing Scott cry which is rare as he is usually filled with one-liners. Stonebridge gets sick as well so he is in a weakened state for a lot of the season.
I’ve grown to really like Richmond who always has the guy’s backs and is every bit the badass they are. I thought Martinez was a welcome addition too.
Once again we get all kinds of international locations including South America, Germany, Russia and more.
As I mentioned the action is superlative and arguably the best I’ve ever seen in a TV series so season 4 is another triumph.
Strike Back: Legacy
Here we are at the end of Scott and Stonebridge’s adventures and to be honest it should have been where Strike Back ended. We’ve been with them for 4 seasons and got emotionally attached to them and the way everything is wrapped up was perfect, so I never understood why it goes on for another 3 seasons with a whole new cast.
This season has a rather awesome storyline featuring the Yakuza working with North Koreans and we get the usual nuclear threat towards the end.
The main villains of this season are Mei Foster AKA Lieutenant Colonel Li Na (Michelle Yeoh) and Lieutenant Colonel Kwon (Will Yun Lee) who have been groomed for years by the North Korean regime and are planning an attack.
Both are fascinating characters as they are shown to be human rather than just one note evil terrorists; Li Na genuinely believes in her cause and Kwon joins her purely out of love for her.
Section 20 are never far behind them with Scott, Stonebridge, Locke, Richmond and Martinez in pursuit with Scott and Stonebridge even going behind enemy lines into North Korea. They of course get captured as they always do but get away at the last minute.
We get to meet Scott’s son Finn who quickly finds out that his father isn’t an IT Consultant but a badass soldier; they end up bonding while everyone is trying to kill them but there’s nothing like shoot-outs and explosions to bring a family together.
The action this season isn’t as spectacular as season 4 but it’s never disappointing keeping up the quick pace of previous seasons with the expected high bodycount, one-liners and close calls.
The people behind the show are clearly big fans of Raiders of the Lost Ark as not only did we have Belloch a few seasons back but now we get Wolf Kahler who played the villainous Dietrich in Raiders. In this he plays a kindhearted old soldier who helps out Scott and Stonebridge.
We lose some more members of Section 20 but I always knew certain people wouldn’t make the end credits. Locke was one of the show’s best characters but he was broken after the death of his son so he gets to be reunited with him in the next world.
Overall, Scott and Stonebridge are two of the best TV characters of all time; they had great on screen chemistry and I will miss watching their antics in the future.
Strike Back: Retribution
It’s out with old and in with new as Season 6 of Strike Back gives us some fresh recruits for Section 20; I have never watched these final three seasons so I am starting totally from scratch.
The new squad is made up of Sgt. Thomas ‘Mac’ McAllister (Warren Brown), Capt. Natalie Reynolds (Roxanne McKee), Sgt. Samuel Wyatt (Daniel MacPherson), LCpl. Gracie Novin (Alin Sumarwata) and LCpl. Will Jensen (Phil Dunster) led by new section 20 head Col. Adeena Donovan (Nina Sosanya).
After being disbanded, Section 20 is restored in order to find a dangerous terrorist that has just escaped prison. Covering places like Europe and the Middle East, the new group must use all of their resources to prevent a conspiracy that could affect the world of modern conflict forever.
It took me a while to get used to the new characters this season and they are definitely not as awesome as Scott and Stonebridge with only Novin making a real impression on me; she’s a firecracker with a foul mouth and is totally badass. Mac and Wyatt try their best to have the same kind of banter as Scott and Stonebridge, but it never quite lands as strongly. Wyatt is especially lacking in positive qualities never coming across as a team player but that is his arc this season.
Mac is sympathetic enough and has a personal vendetta against Omair Idrisi after his entire team got wiped out so we understand why he joins 20.
We don’t really find out much about Reynolds, so I didn’t feel any particular bond with her so here’s hoping we get more characterization next season.
The villains are the usual Jihadists with the big bad Idrisi and his wife Jane Lowry planning a chemical attack. Idrisi is supposedly killed earlier on with his wife becoming the primary antagonist for a lot of the episodes. Lowry is a nasty piece of work but credit to Katherine Kelly who is fantastic in the role.
The best scene of this season isn’t even an action sequence but has her tied up with Wyatt and Mac and she is chatting with them about their families but her face changes after she has gained their trust and then says how she will kill their families first. She is truly demonic and one of the better antagonists of Strike Back. The character of Ives was particularly obnoxious, and I thought Trevor Eve overplayed him a bit lacking any subtlety.
We get some Neo Nazis in a couple of episodes who also are hateful but not as predictable or one note as you may think with the brother and sister each having their own motivations for the lives they lead.
The action is as slick as ever with gun battles, chases and impressive hand to hand fight scenes. I’m not sure I like the visual style which was over colourised at times but it does make it a little glossier looking.
There are some nice surprises I didn’t see coming and the final two episodes are the best which I won’t spoil (even though I’ve spoiled everything else) so if you’ve seen them you’ll understand why.
It also has a few funny moments of dialogue but as I said the script isn’t quite as sharp as it was previously.
Overall, Strike Back Season 6 gives us a whole new cast that don’t quite live up to Scott and Stonebridge (aside from Novin who I adore) but there is some fantastic action and several unpredictable shocks which keep you engaged.
Strike Back: Revolution
This season is probably my least favourite of the entire show; it takes far too long to establish who the actual villain is and everything just feels familiar like we’ve seen it all before. It’s another bad guy who has stolen another nuke so the team need to stop him, etc. This time it’s a rogue Russian called Pavel (Alec Newman) who wants to ignite a new war with the West as he feels Russia has become too soft.
Newman is good in the role but his transformation from clumsy nerd to terrorist doesn’t happen quick enough so the first few episodes kind of feel like a waste of time.
The leader of Section 20 is now Colonel Alexander Coltrane (Jamie Bamber) and he has no problem going off the books to get the job done; he’s a fun addition and feels believable in this kind of role.
The other new team member is Lance Corporal Manisha Chetri (Varada Sethu) who is the communications expert taking over from Jensen. She’s wet behind the ears and screws up occasionally, so this makes her very human and relatable.
Wyatt is still a dick I can’t take to, and Mac has very little development, so I still don’t care about either of these characters.
Once again, it’s Novin who is my favourite and at one point she even gets to re-enact a scene from Die Hard where she uses a fire extinguisher to jump off a ledge which is one of the action highlights.
The most impressive scene is obviously the one take 4 minute sequence which I’ve posted above; it’s expertly handled and one of the most ambitious action scenes of the entire series.
The team are joined by Russian operative Katerina Zarkova (Yasemin Kay Allen) and we are unsure of her loyalties throughout; she and Novin are kind of frenemies who can’t make up their minds if they’re allies or not.
Captain Reynolds is noticeable by her absence but I felt like they didn’t really know what to do with her anyway so she was forgotten pretty quickly.
As always we still have regular intervals of softcore porn which are at times laughable with people banging within literally seconds of meeting each other; it does cause some unintentional mirth and is purely there to excite teenage boys.
The action is as strong as ever and one thing I like about these last few seasons is there is more hand to hand combat with some generally impressive fight scenes. Keep your eyes open for Brahim who shows up for a brief barfight in episode 9.
This is the only season so far where I found I had no real interest in the story and for some reason it just lacked urgency and excitement. I do miss the star power of the earlier seasons where we no longer get to see any big-name actors like Charles Dance or Ian Glenn who previously showed up.
I would love to see a TV show like Strike Back where we get to see Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Daniel Bernhardt, Scott Adkins or other action stars going on various missions and kicking ass. The scale of the action in this series is better than most theatrical releases so maybe TV is the future for hardcore action. Too bad Cinemax have no plans to do any more shows but maybe HBO Max or some other company might start in the future…
I went off on a tangent there but overall, season 7 is all very familiar and although it still has some enjoyable action scenes the plot lacks urgency and felt stretched out over the 10 episodes; only one more season to go and then I can move on with my life.
Strike Back: Vendetta
After 7 seasons and a massive bodycount we finally reach the finale of Strike Back; it’s a fitting climax and not everyone lives to see the end as we’ve come to expect.
This is a definite step up from the previous season and there are genuinely emotional moments so if you’ve seen this season then you’ll know what I’m talking about.
There are some decent villains this time around with Ivana Milicevic (from Banshee) playing the primary antagonist Arianna Demachi, who starts off as part of the Albanian mafia but is in fact a Russian operative. Like most of the villains however, they are being used by their governments and end up getting screwed over by them. Sadly there is yet another Jihadist villain called Zayef who is quite unhinged but also has his reasons for hating the people who were responsible for the death of his family.
The action is as cinematic as always and we see some familiar faces including Yayan Ruhian (from The Raid) and Rade Šerbedžija (Mission: Impossible 2). Yayan gets some fighting in obviously although it would have been a lot cooler if he had a bigger role.
Once again there are regular fistfights and shoot outs and it’s still awesome to see real explosions; there is the odd bit of CG but for the most part all the action looks stunning.
I still don’t like Wyatt and giving him Hawaiian shirts doesn’t mean he has a personality; he’s always been rude to Chetri who was a great character that has her own arc this season too. We get to learn more of Mac’s backstory so when tragedy strikes it’s hard not to wipe away a tear.
Novin is as awesome as always with the highlight of the season being her fight scene as she escapes an apartment building which feels straight out of Atomic Blonde.
I’ve found with these past two seasons that Jamie Bamber has stolen the show as Alexander Coltrane; he would have been a fine 007 in his younger days but he gives Coltrane a believable military baring.
Strike Back manages to rarely be predictable and this season has a few surprises and I especially enjoyed the heist storyline for the finale which was something different.
Overall, season 8 of Strike Back is a fitting ending to one of the best action shows of all time; there are plentiful shocks and surprises, stunning action scenes and an emotional core giving this season more emotional depth than we’ve had before.
So that is 8 seasons of Strike Back; I hope you enjoyed this rather huge review; if you’ve never seen the show and are looking for some explosive action then you’ll be hard pushed to top this. Scott & Stonebridge will always be the main stars of the series and it never quite reaches the same lofty heights after they leave but it’s never less than entertaining and a must-see for fans of the genre.