WWE’s critically acclaimed series, Undertaker: The Last Ride, is another addition to the company’s long line of terrific documentaries. However, what sets it apart from WWE’s countless other documentaries is this is an in-depth, never-before-seen look at one of pro wrestling’s biggest and most mysterious stars, Mark Calaway aka The Undertaker. For almost thirty years, The Undertaker maintained his mythical on-screen persona by distancing himself from public appearances and not allowing cameras access into his personal life. In The Last Ride, however, Taker’s long unwritten rule is thrown out of the window as WWE unleashes a five-chapter series unpacking the man who is known as the ‘conscience of WWE’ as he battles his own conscience between 2017 and 2020 and the impending decision of retirement. What unfolds is a riveting and intimate documentary that stands head and shoulders above any before it, and it’s led by the legend himself, ‘The Phenom’ The Undertaker.
Chapter 1: The Greatest Fear
The first episode of The Last Ride, which is the ‘set up’, does a masterful job of doing just that, setting up the gripping series from the get-go. Immediately, it capitalises and benefits from the aura of The Undertaker, as fans finally get to witness Mark Calaway in front of a camera, stepping off a plane for WrestleMania 33, and then watch him interact with fellow wrestlers backstage. It’s a sight that was unfathomable just a few years ago, and for this very reason, the documentary sucks you in instantly as fans see the man, not the myth.
“Chapter 1” also sets the tone by recapping Taker’s stature in WWE and wrestling by allowing fellow legends and superstars to shower him with praise. In addition to this, it also details his journey from immortal to mortal. Through a fantastic recap sequence, with tons of behind the curtain footage such as Vince McMahon and other company employees surrounding him after he collapsed due to a concussion, we witness the physical toll wrestling has taken on Undertaker. Explaining why he’s at the point of contemplating retirement, despite not being emotionally at peace with the decision. The very first episode beautifully sets up our legendary subject’s story, his mental and physical battle, and also the documentaries visual style of following Taker on his present journey while intertwining with historical footage. In the end, you’re left wondering what else we could possibly get, not realising there is so much more to come.
Chapter 2: The Redemption
Episode two or “Chapter 2” is the emotional core of The Last Ride. This chapter beautifully humanizes ‘The Deadman’ by exploring his relationship with wife Michelle McCool, as audiences get to witness them sitting at their home as their young daughter plays in the background. On the flip side, in his professional life, the episode explores his undying loyalty to WWE CEO Vince McMahon and how close the two are, with Undertaker himself stating he’d “take a bullet for the man.” The two relationships that crossover into his personal and professional life are not only relatable to all but incredibly touching, and they further highlight his conflict of doing what’s best for his wrestling life and what’s best for his family, and whether he should finally call it quits on his in-ring career. It raises the bar of the series and allows you to invest in the story and the man on a much deeper level.
Chapter 3: End of an Era
The series as a whole should be a delight for lifelong wrestling fans, but if there was one episode that best caters to the WWE faithful, it’s “Chapter 3.” In this episode, fans get to relive ‘The Phenom’s’ most historic on-screen programs with three men he will forever be tied to: Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and Kane. There are countless stories recapping their legendary matches, tied with great behind the scenes footage that will make wrestling fans smile from ear to ear. Also, in revisiting history, including Shawn Michael’s retirement match – it intelligently reincorporates the series’ overriding narrative, as Undertaker contemplates whether he should’ve joined Shawn in retiring in 2010. All of this then sets up the great plot twist, if you will, as it visits the 2018 tag team match between the four (much older) superstars. On paper, it should have been the perfect retirement match, but the once golden combination fails, and Undertaker is left without his hail-Mary ending.
Chapter 4: The Battle Within
Although each episode of The Last Ride is visually stunning, thanks to excellent cinematography work capturing great shots of Undertaker in deep thought. In addition to the plethora of rare footage and photos of the WWE legend. However, episode four may best highlight the visual side of the series, as we see phenomenal footage of Undertaker making his signature graveyard and casket vignettes in the ‘90s and his level of dedication to getting the ‘perfect take’. Also, to poetically further the series’ larger narrative, the episode concludes with Undertaker and AJ Styles (his final opponent) talking backstage. No words, just one-shot beautifully setting up the final chapter.
Chapter 5: Revelation
The final chapter of Undertaker’s three-year story is a fitting finale for this epic and incredibly detailed portrayal of a legend’s final years. It utilizes all the tools the documentary effectively uses throughout the various chapters. It’s flooded with emotion. There is a wonderful look into how Undertaker and AJ Styles’ epic Boneyard Match at WrestleMania 2020 came to be due to the coronavirus pandemic. Then it finally culminates a perfect character arc that WWE couldn’t have scripted even if they wanted to, with Undertaker finally stating, “This time the cowboy really rides away.”
The Last Ride is without a doubt a collection of documentaries worth owning, especially if you’re a die-hard wrestling or Undertaker fan. However, the Blu-ray extras are perhaps the weak point of this title. It contains the bonus Last Ride episode titled “Tales From the Deadman” and a collection of bonus content that most fans have likely already seen on social media. In fairness, considering the amount of content within the main chapters, WWE may have found it challenging to include any real meaty extras.
All in all, The Last Ride is a series worth revisiting over and over again. It’s a master class in documentary filmmaking, with smooth transitions and utilizing an array of footage while maintaining the true essence of a larger story. Every chapter is unique and engaging and rarely is there a dull moment. The WWE will arguably never put this level of detail into another superstar’s documentary ever again because it’s likely no one will ever have a career like The Undertaker again. For this reason, Undertaker: The Last Ride may never ever be surpassed as the greatest WWE documentary (or documentary series) of all time.
Prd: World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)
Runtime: 5 hours and 30 minutes.
Undertaker: The Last Ride is available on Blu-ray and DVD on November 23rd.