Striking Vipers is the first episode of Black Mirror Season 5, and this time, we’re only getting three episodes, but then we did get the immense Bandersnatch inbetween Christmas and New Year, which had over four hours’ worth of content.
Beginning with a tale of true love… well, not really, Falcon… I mean, Danny (Anthony Mackie – Avengers: Endgame) meets Theo (Nicole Beharie – Shame) – which is a woman’s name in this sci-fi universe – in a club and they come back to his flat for a bit of “how’s your father”, but with work due tomorrow, he wakes late and plays the titular Tekken-style videogame Striking Vipers with friend Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II – Baywatch), on what initially looks like PS3 controllers, but later looks more like PS4 ones with added lights.
Fast-forward 11 years and it’s Danny’s 38th birthday, and after a long hiatus and with his life in the married doldrums, Karl has bought him the latest in entertainment – Striking Vipers X, along with a VR headset for a new kind of experience, as when the pair play the game online with the virtual device, it puts you right in the thick of the action. This is an interesting idea, but it all gets a bit weird when the two in-game characters – with Karl and Danny playing respectively, Roxette (the gorgeous Pom Klementieff, above-left, aka Mackie’s fellow Avenger, Mantis – the only reason to watch Endgame, really) and Lance (Ludi Lin – Power Rangers) – start snogging, even though they’re just mates in real life… before things develop further, and which causes more issues later when after many years of marriage, this seems to be the only thing which gives Danny an erection…
Meanwhile, Karl is still dating young women, and it’s clear that if you’re dating someone much younger, their cultural references are much different so you have nothing in common. But it’s either that or getting bored with your ‘wife for life’.
What follows passes an hour without too much complaint, but since there are already ‘virtual girlfriend’ VR apps and games out there, as well as videos made for VR helmets on certain websites (according to a man down the pub… ahem), this feels like Charlie Brooker thinks he’s doing something new, but isn’t.
As such, this plays out like any drama where one half of a couple is kinda having an affair, and the other one can’t figure out what’s going on, and you’re just waiting to see how it’ll pan out, but it’s a bit limp in its execution.
The only bit of tech I really liked with the VR pinball machine, with the old-school sounds, for the bachelor who was a kid in the ’80s.
Striking Vipers is now available on Netflix.
Widescreen ratio: 2.00:1
Director: Owen Harris
Producer: Kate Glover
Writer: Charlie Brooker
Danny: Anthony Mackie
Karl: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
Theo: Nicole Beharie
Roxette: Pom Klementieff
Lance: Ludi Lin
Daisy: Monique Cynthia Brown
Jemma: Caroline Martin
Simon: Jordan Carlos
Maxwell: Guilherme Vallim
Waiter: Eduardo Mossri
Todd: Greg Kriek
Chester: Austin Michael Young
Jason: Joe Parker
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.