SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
If 2020 has given us one thing, it’s that there is now ample material for documentaries for years. What was interesting to me is seeing a documentary of 2020 through the lens of WWE, a company that refused to acknowledge the pandemic of Covid-19 for months. And like all of these WWE Network documentaries, this edition of WWE 24 is a mixed bag of wonderfully candid and authentic moments and being a WWE corporate promotional piece. In the first minute of this documentary, Triple H shoehorns a piece of WWE branding I’m not sure I’ve ever actually heard anyone say out loud before as he incorporates “Then. Now. Forever” into why the show needs to go on.
This episode follows the pandemic WrestleMania stories of Drew McIntyre, Kevin Owens, John Cena, Braun Strowman, Rhea Ripley, and Rob Gronkowski. The documentary seems to have been a pivot from a Rhea Ripley episode of WWE Chronicle as they show a lot of pre-quarantine footage of Rhea. One of the most interesting pieces of this early lead-up footage is of Rhea surveying Raymond James Stadium after an XFL game. There’s also some footage of Rhea from her days in the Australian indies which was neat to see. You can tell how excited about this she is, which is pretty fun. Some of the neat candid footage with Rhea comes after the recording of her match with Charlotte and you get a look at the real person behind Charlotte. It is brief for sure, but you can tell Charlotte thinks a lot of Rhea.
Kevin Owens’ portion of the documentary is a little less involved than some of the others. The main footage with Owens is talking about how he was left off the previous Mania and his search for taking advantage and making a memorable moment at this Mania. Owens is unique in that he has been very open about that he lost a family member to Covid-19, walked out of a set of tapings due to a lack of precautions, and was allegedly the one that had a conversation with Vince about how they needed to institute social distancing and masks. So of course none of that was addressed or talked about. Granted all of that occurred post-Wrestlemania, but this documentary is about the WWE’s response to the pandemic. Which the company heaps praise upon itself for WWE’s adaptability and gives minimal acknowledgment to safety. It is no wonder that WWE had an outbreak of Covid-19 as there is certainly footage in this documentary that shows people taking safety and the pandemic lightly. Mickie James was shown backstage when she wasn’t even on the card.
Drew McIntyre’s crowning moment at Wrestlemania is one of the things that were greatly impacted by the pandemic occurring. Drew’s rollercoaster of emotions during this time is certainly understandable. We get some nice candid moments of Drew while he was filming some vignettes in the UK right before he had to fly back. This Drew portion feels a bit underdeveloped but part of that is they already made an episode of WWE Chronicle that included this that was focused solely on Drew.
The crowning of a champion that was a little more fleshed out was that of Braun Strowman. They start by giving a brief look at his early years and struggles with being bullied for his weight. Braun reveals that since he was not on Wrestlemania as planned he was driving to a property he owns in Wisconsin when he got the call he was needed for Mania. Braun talks very briefly about taking over for Roman Reigns but that is never explored further. To say Braun struggles with balancing the WWE corporate-speak and coming off as an authentic and genuine human being would be putting it lightly. And that’s all on top of him coming off as both relatable but also incredibly unlikeable at times, something we see from his social media a lot.
John Cena’s section is pretty superficial and brief. If you were looking for some real insight into the creation of the Firefly Funhouse “match,” you won’t find any of that here. You see John Cena in the warehouse they filmed most of that segment and he gives some talk of how serious WWE is taking everything. One thing of note in this segment is we never see Bray when he’s not in character during any of the stuff with Cena.
And finally, the last person featured was Rob Gronkowski. There is a scene with Gronk where he jokes about making a call to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to get signed. Which as we know is exactly what happened just a few weeks later. If you’re aware of Gronk and his off the field persona, this will not change your opinion as he is his normal insufferable self. The clip was floating around a lot before this aired, but this section is where they show Vince jumping off the platform with Gronk. I’m curious if that had not been captured had they shown any of this footage of Gronkowski as it adds little to nothing to the story. And they don’t even address why he just left midway through the second night and had Titus O’Neil take over hosting duties.
Like most WWE-produced documentaries, you have to take them with a grain of salt. This one had a chance to go a bit deeper and, as usual, they chose not to go down that road.