Mike, review: a controversial Mike Tyson for Disney Plus

The showrunner Steven Rogers and the director Craig Gillespie are the creative talents behind Tonya, a film that brought a breath of fresh and energetic air to what might have been a standard biopic about an ice skater. The two then reunited for a miniseries about the life of Mike Tyson made for Disney Plus, with the same dark humor and exuberant storytelling approach used in the 2017 film. Tonyathen also Mike is frantic and grumpy, with a decidedly cinematic style and a surprisingly emotional tone compared to its predecessor, breaking the fourth wall and becoming shamelessly self-aware and brutally honest in his portrayal of Tyson, but at times losing his appeal when he fails to follow a common thread that can make the viewer understand the meaning of what he is observing.

Mike: too human a story for a sports champion

As you surely know, Mike Tyson was one of the most famous and successful boxers in history who became famous not only for his numerous victories, but above all for having led a very eventful and decidedly controversial life. His past is made up of so much many pieces all different from each other than to unite them that only a biographical series could have coherently put together. It will not have been easy to do so because one of the most complex aspects was to structure the series so that it not only did justice to the story of a character still alive, but that it was also engaging for any type of viewer. Secondly, it was necessary to authentically portray the heavyweight boxing champion with all the strengths of him, but above all his flaws and innumerable weaknesses. The Disney Plus series manages to perfect all these features, giving an intelligent and functional product, but not perfect, also thanks to the excellent performance of Trevante Rhodes as Tyson.

The series begins with a Rogers gem, or the use of Tyson’s autobiographical interview from 2017 as the glue that holds the entire production together. The boxing champion is shown in a fictional scene as he recounts his life, speaking freely to his audience in the crowd and, at the same time, to the spectators at home. He is honest and open about the many mistakes he has made over the years, he proves to be self-aware and, again thanks to Rogers, also quite fascinating in what can be called a one-man show. Tyson also flinches at some of her more embarrassing or controversial choices, but always reflects on why she made those decisions and how certain life events affected them. The narrative interconnects the numerous timelines under consideration, although the series quickly reverts to one chronological structurestarting from his horrible childhood, then moving on to his adolescence and adulthood.


Excellent interpretations, but the bull’s-eye?

Impossible, then, not to mention the incredible performance of Rhodes, perhaps at times a little too accentuated, but who manages to effectively show the complex character of Tyson. However, we can also observe a child Tyson bullied and a Tyson criminal teenager. Rhodes, however, is seen more on screen and it is interesting to observe his great work on the voice and appearance which manage to give even greater vulnerability and humanity to the athlete. Even his relationship with the manager and mentor Cus D’Amato (Harvey Keitel) is beautifully represented, providing a surprisingly emotional layer to the show. Keitel, finally, is masterful as an eccentric and senior coach, with an effortless performance that still deserves praise along with Rhodes’ work.


However Mike suffers from a serious problem: the lack of a true identity. The series, as mentioned in the introduction, often breaks the fourth wall starting from an initial question, that is “Who I am?” he tries to answer in eight episodes lasting thirty minutes. Unfortunately, however, the answer will never come because everything is told using a quick roundup of events, more personal than sporting, already introduced by the emblematic titles of the episodes. There is space to tell about the marriage with the actress Robin Givens played by Laura Harrierto introduce Desiree Washington (Li Eubanks), a contestant in a beauty contest who was raped by Tyson and for which the boxer served three years in prison and many other delicate events. In the end, however, there is little sporting characterization on the character and the viewer finds himself asking another question: “Why should I be interested in the figure of Tyson?”.


Mike Tyson, in conclusion, was a brute and tragic character, but also a great boxing champion. There is little of the latter aspect in the miniseries Mike of Disney Plus who instead prefers to show the more personal and human side of the boxer.

A life full of problems led him to be violent and often also used and abused by those closest to him (unfortunately also by those who made this miniseries who, according to the accusation of Tyson himself, did not contact the boxer to buy the rights on his personal history). For this reason, damned love stories and painful working collaborations are also told. The miniseries leaves no stone unturned, however it leaves the viewer a bitter taste and eager to know more to understand why he should empathize for such a negative character who, in the same series, is represented as if he were a gangster at the Those good guys. Mike, then, is a stark account of the controversial boxer’s life who entertains, astounds, but ends in a too hasty forgetting a few too many pieces along the way, especially on Tyson’s sporting career.

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