WWE – Ruthless Aggression Vol 1 (Cert 15)

2 Discs DVD (Distributor: Fremantle Media) Running Time: 239 minutes approx.

I must confess I have never viewed “Ruthless Aggression” as an “era” in WWE history; to me it was just another buzzword/catchphrase Vince McMahon trotted out to prevent the dwindling post-Attitude Era audience from straying. And since the next decade plus was dominated by one man, for me it was always the “Cena Era”.

WWE clearly saw things differently, otherwise we wouldn’t have this latest documentary to devour, as first seen on the WWE Network, now collated for this DVD release. Volume 1 comprises of five chapters mostly running under an hour (with one exception – more on this later) that recap the highs and lows of the WWE from 2002 to 2010, by which time the company focused more on being PG friendly and less “ruthless”.

Narrated by an actor named Michael Rapperport (no, me neither) Ruthless Aggression features WWE stars past and present reflecting on the subjects at hand, offering their own personal insight and revelations to bolster the particular story being told. But be warned however, this is a WWE production so revisionist history and mendacious spin is a very prominent facet of the narrative.

Straight away the first episode, entitled “It’s Time To Shake Things Up!”, exemplifies this with 50 minutes of white washing and pernicious omissions of the facts, showing no regard for the audience’s intelligence or their ability to use Google. After the Monday Night Wars (which Vince won, never forget), there was the WCW Invasion of 2001 which bombed because apparently nobody cared about WCW or their wrestlers – and nothing to do with the absence of their biggest stars, and the fact they were booked like losers from the start.

Vince’s reaction after this was to completely rebrand the then WWF to create a fresh new look company. Yes, Vince woke up one day and just decided the global company brand he had spent 30 plus years building up needed changing. This, as we know, is a blatant distortion of the facts and bare faced cheek in expecting us to swallow this as truth.

The real story is the other WWF, the World Wildlife Fund, had a deal with Vince over how the WWF name could be used in Europe to avoid confusion between the two groups (yes, because wrestling and animal preservation are so easy to mix up). But Vince being Vince ignored it until the other WWF found their online presence compromised by WWF.com, and hit Vince with a law suit he couldn’t win, hence the change from WWF to WWE.

Since Vince will never publicly admit defeat even in retrospect, the version told here is his truth and the only one he’ll ever sanction. Anyway, this all laid the foundation for Vince to split the rosters, create two separate brands in RAW and Smackdown, introduce the concept of Ruthless Aggression and give a young rookie named John Cena something to say in his big debut in 2002.

Conveniently, episode 2, “Enter John Cena!”, sees the eponymous hero be surprisingly candid in pretty much apologising for his first run being a flop and taking the blame for it. Yes, he was bland as a babyface but the booking didn’t help either. So the story goes, Cena was about to be fired when Big Steph heard him rap on a tour bus and encouraged him to do it on TV which saved his career and the rest is history. Cena’s martyrdom aside, this is a fluff piece at best.

Running over an hour is episode 3 “Evolution!” and of course, the chapter featuring Triple H is the longest! Snark aside, this is quite a revelatory piece, with everyone being open about their careers before and after the group, right down to Randy Orton admitting he was too immature for the big push he got out of it. Perhaps of most interest will be the rare footage of Mark Jindrak as the group’s fourth member before Batista got the spot.  However, the group only lasted roughly a year and a half, so their “legend” has been exaggerated somewhat.

Back to the whitewashing with episode 4 “The Next Big Thing!” aka “Brock Lesnar is awesome and anyone who says a bad word against him will be beaten up.” That’s not cynicism, that is the general gist of this chapter – so much of the negative side to Brock’s first career has vanished into the same ether space as the WWF lawsuit. So, if you were hoping for his take on the non-match that saw Steve Austin walk out of the WWE, the plane ride from hell, breaking Bob Holly’s neck and his first departure from the company, this isn’t going to provide it.

Finally, episode 5 is “Civil War: Raw vs. Smackdown!” which sort of brings us full circle back to the opening chapter regarding the roster split, one of Vince’s big ideas to turn the company fortunes around. Staying firmly with kayfabe territory, the implication is the two shows were at war with each other, with RAW being the flagship show and SD the also-ran, until Paul Heyman took over SD and by focusing on wrestling, ended up smoking RAW in the ratings.

There is no denying that he WWE production team do a good documentary and this is no exception, in terms of presentation, liberal usage of the extensive WWE library, and getting (mostly) the right people to participate in being candid about some issues (when allowed to, natch). Sadly, this is undermined by Vince’s self-absorbed myopia and lack of respect for the truth in painting pictures using his brushes only.

By treating the audience like idiots and pretending things that are a matter of public record didn’t happen, he fosters an environment of distrust, rendering most pieces as vapid fluff. Therefore, Ruthless Aggression Vol 1 is a vey well made and informative series but aimed more at less knowledgeable WWE fans than those who are aware of the real truth behind these key events.

 

Extras:

Disc 1:

Monday Night RAW June 24th 2002 – The Birth Of Ruthless Aggression

Season 1 Teaser

Season 1 Trailer

Season 2 Teaser

Disc 2:

Evolution At Wrestlemania 21 – Extended Cut

Evolution – Alternate Ending

 

Rating – ****     

Man In Black