In among the current spate of film-to-TV reimaginings, 12 Monkeys seems like one of the more curious choices. Lacking the star power among its cast possessed by the likes of Fargo, Bates Motel and Hannibal, its appeal is heavily reliant on existing love for Terry Gilliam’s original.
Where From Dusk Til Dawn faltered by stretching out a film-length plot into a series format that it was ill-suited to, 12 Monkeys instead goes in a different direction from the off, sacrificing the madcap energy of the original in favour of a more straightforward time-travel based thriller.
In this instance, Bruce Willis’s grizzled convict is replaced by a haunted-looking, relatively younger Aaron Stanford (X-Men 2), the time machine is slightly more reliable, and Brad Pitt’s unhinged Jeffrey Goines is now Jennifer (Emily Hampshire).
For the most part, the tactic of changing things works well. Shorn of the knowledge of where things are headed, 12 Monkeys’ unpredictability works in its favour – second-guessing things won’t work here. The time-travel conundrums are woven intelligently into the story, creating a tale that is at times hard to keep up with, but always adept at keeping viewers on their toes.
Unfortunately, the cast can’t quite keep pace with the scripts’ ideas. Willis’s Cole in the original film was a reluctant worker drone, staring on with a beleaguered expression as Pitt’s Goines munched on the scenery. Stanford’s Cole is less of an everyman – in fact, it’s hard to pin down exactly what his motivation is.
The current iteration of Goines is marginalised for much of this series too, effectively removing from play one of the material’s strongest characters. Of the rest of the cast, only new inventions Jones (Barbara Sukowa) and Ramse (Kirk Acevedo, who seems to be in pretty much everything at the moment) really stand out.
Even so, there’s enough good stuff in 12 Monkeys to suggest that the story being told here is worth persevering with. With a second season confirmed, creators Travis Fickett and Terry Matalas will get that chance.