ThunderCats episode 2 review: The Omens Part 2

Episode two of the brand new ThunderCats gives us villains, a reason for being, and real spectacle. Here's our review...

ThunderCats

This review contains spoilers.

2. The Omens Part 2

If last week’s first episode of the newly rebooted ThunderCats got your mouth watering, then this week’s follow up will stir up further intrigue as disorder, chaos and confusion run rampant through the streets of Thundera.

Lion-O sits at a table tinkering with a scrap of technology while Tygra berates him angrily, not understanding Lion-O’s reasons for freeing the two captured Lizardfolk last episode – an act of clemency that many perceived as weakness. To Tygra, it’s further evidence that the prince doesn’t take his position seriously.

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But there’s little time for petty grievances as an alarm sounds. The advance guard-post manned by Lynx-O (a nice cameo – he was a character introduced in Thundercats Ho! – The Movie and featured thereafter as a regular cast member) picks up the unmistakeable scent of lizards, and they’re attacking in hordes. More circumstantial evidence that Lion-O’s mercy was misplaced.

This is a set up for a thrilling sequence in which a platoon of gigantic armoured battle-mechs lay siege to Thundera, laser canons and missiles easily destroying the stone walls (a nice reference to the 1985 episode Return To Thundera, in which a battle robot tears the head off Cats’ Lair). Things go from bad to worse as the trophy that Grune brought home from his expedition turns out to be a Trojan horse containing none other than the reptilian general Slithe.

All seems lost until Lion-O’s father, Claudus, General Grune and Tygra join the battle and begin to push back the invaders. But they’re overmatched by the Lizards’ powerful technology. Lion-O, left behind with Jaga, is forced to watch as his home is destroyed by the very technology that he idolised; Thunderian civilians fleeing underground from the battle.

But things are about to get a whole lot worse as Grune betrays his people (an obvious beat if you’d seen the original series in which Grune was the ghost of Thundercat gone bad) and he offers to trade an unconscious Panthro, previously thought dead, for the Sword Of Omens. Fortunately, the invaders hadn’t counted on Jaga’s clerics, who manage to drive them back with their magic, and the arrival of Lion-O, whose understanding of technology helps neutralise the mechanical forces.

Giving chase, Claudus comes to Panthro’s rescue only to be stabbed by his old friend – a genuinely shocking twist which personally left me aghast. It’s actually an enormous relief when ‘Panthro’ turns out to be Mumm-Ra in disguise, the ThunderCats’ legendary nemesis. With Claudus dead and the Sword Of Omens in enemy hands, Lion-O, Tygra and Jaga are easily captured.

Mumm-Ra, now sitting on the throne, desperately wants to unlock the power of the Eye Of Thundera, the jewel embedded in the hilt of the Sword Of Omens but can’t because of a spell which prevents the sword being touched by evil.  He takes his frustrations out on Jaga, demanding that he use his magic to undo the spell. Jaga’s torture is cut short by the arrival of Tygra and Lion-O who were given a key to escape the dungeons by the lizard that Lion-O had mercy on the previous day.

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Lion-O deftly snatches the blade from Mumm-Ra and summons the powers of the Sword Of Omens (a sequence which has been lovingly preserved), which blasts Mumm-Ra out of the throne room. Enraged, Mumm-Ra begins the incantation to transform into his more powerful form but is stopped by the rays of the rising sun which leaves him scorched and burnt.

The ThunderCats’ victory is only temporary as Tygra, Lion-O, and Cheetara (revealed to be the last surviving member of Jaga’s clerics) are forced to flee by the arrival of Slithe and the rest of his forces.  Jaga sacrifices himself to buy them time, but not before giving Lion-O a quest: The Book Of Omens lies at the foot of the setting sun and the three of them must find it before Mumm-Ra does. 

If there was something that the first episode was missing, it was spectacle. It was a gentle introduction to the world, the new characters and their personalities. Now that that’s been dispensed with, the focus can turn to action. The attack on Thundera is really exciting with an impressive sense of scale – huge, towering mechanical monstrosities that easily crush their comparatively primitive opponents; laser cannons and explosive ordnance obliterating troops armed with swords and shields.

It also introduces what is sure to be a recurring theme – the blending of magic and technology. To these ThunderCats, technology is a mythical thing, spoken of in legend but not thought to be real. The Lizards’ attack on Thundera using advanced tech establishes a credible threat and also a fear of the unknown.  As Grune taunts, “how can you defeat technology if you don’t even understand it?”

This is also the first episode where we get a good look at the villains. Slithe is a formidable physical presence, bloated and much larger than any of his Lizardfolk companions, and Dee Bradley Baker has given him a gravelly rumble which suits the character design. There’ll have to be more screen time before a complete judgement is formed but this incarnation seems to have lost some of the inherent deviousness that Slithe had. Slithe used to speak with a snake-like hiss, looking at the world from hooded eyes; distrusting everything and perpetually scheming. This version seems much more straightforward.

Mumm-Ra, while hunched and hideous as he always was, and given to impressive displays of power, is so far something of a disappointment. There was something insidious about the 85’s Mumm-Ra; the sense of ancient evil prepared to wait millennia for a victory; the patience of ever-living evil. Here he’s much more of a generic bad guy – a powerful sorcerer bent on domination and conquest but one which lacks mystery which made Mumm-Ra so terrifying.

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These minor gripes aside it’s still very impressive. It’s established a valid reason for the nascent core group of ThunderCats we’re familiar with to form, outlined a credible threat to the heroes, and left many questions unanswered. What will the Book Of Omens reveal? Is Panthro still alive? What does a fully-powered Mumm-Ra have in store for them?

It’s gripping stuff which builds on a solid first episode and delivers some well-earned thrills. But the journey’s only just begun…

ThunderCats is on Cartoon Network in the UK, Saturdays at 11am.

Read our review of episode 1, The Omens, here.

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