With all the video game shows and movies we are expected to get in the near future, few have the strange baggage that the television adaptation of Halo Is. Microsoft’s flagship shooter was first announced in 2013 and has been in development for almost a decade, which is to say nothing of the movie Microsoft tried to make for the series that eventually disappeared into action. .
During the time it took for the series to film and air, the franchise went through some notable upheaval., with last year Infinite Halo to have managed to bring back the waning fans with the games, at least. Beyond that, the idea of what Halo is like a franchise – a simple story of a space marine (and a few friends) fighting for humanity against a succession of alien threats, or a sprawling space epic featuring ancient civilizations, supersoldiers and rogue AIs – a changed frequently, even during Bungie’s tenure before the studio bowed out in the 2010s Halo Range.
It would be easy for Paramount Halo series to simply cash in on the goodwill of the franchise, but the series is openly not interested in doing a simple retread of the Master Chief story that players have lived through for 20 years. “Contact”, the first episode of the series, goes out of its way to show how it will be different from the games via its exclusive and whimsical silver timeline. The episode opens with a small colony of human insurgents on the planet Madrigal. The insurgents, we are told, have left the United Nations Space Command, the reigning government of the galaxy which since spent years using their Spartan supersoldiers to try and suppress pockets of insurgents across the galaxy. In the games, the Spartans have been seen as mythical figures who save the day and inspire hope in humanity during their various intergalactic conflicts. But that respectful tone is nowhere to be found in this opening, as an insurgent professor describes the armored soldiers in chilling detail as something to be scared of, the kind of scary story you tell to get a kid to bed or avoid a place. they shouldn’t go.
This tinge of unease is heightened as our POV character, teenage Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha) and her friends explore the borders of their colony when attacked by a squad of Covenant elites. From there the episode turns into horror as Kwan flees back to his base, covered in the blood of his dead friends and unable to tell anyone that the Covenant is real rather than UNSC propaganda as they originally believed it. Violence in the Halo has always veered towards the cartoon, but director Otto Bathurst gives this sequence a genuine sense of dread and desperation as Kwan pulls his people to safety and searches for his father Jin (Jeong-hwan Kong) while avoiding getting to shoot on. CG of Amblin Entertainment, used to bring the Elites to life, makes them like creepy (but also charmingly silly) as it can be faced with them in games, and there’s real weight to the way they move around the battlefield blasting and stabbing anyone who gets in their way.
If the early parts of Madrigal Invasion try to pull from the sheer desperation found in the original Halo and fallout like To reach and ODST, landing the UNSC Spartans to save the day seems more in line with how Infinite and Halo 5 want supersoldiers to feel superhuman. The CG for scenes where Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber) has to use his enhanced strength or agility can be a little clunky, but like the Elites, the way the Spartans move on and off the battlefield has real weight that gives them a presence. It’s hard not to get excited when the leader takes out a turret to mow down enemies, or when another Spartan wields the double while stomping effortlessly through the warzone, or overloading a plasma gun to knock down enemy shields. an elite before finishing them off with a headshot.
Master Chief’s exact character type has been a matter of contention for some time, and 343’s past efforts to humanize the iconic Spartan have been mostly mixed. Halo the series doesn’t attempt to reset the Leader to be the mostly mute killing machine he was in the original trilogy, but it also doesn’t hit the same notes as more recent games. For many, it won’t be hard to see some similarities between Chief and a certain bounty hunter, but there’s a more deliberate, almost robotic cadence to the way Schreiber’s Spartan interacts in the world. He’s not trying to emulate Steve Downes’ performance in the games, and the show’s smartest decision is to let Schreiber comfortably exist as an exceptional soldier who’s only just beginning to consider his upbringing. “Contact” gets to this plot point a little too quickly, but Schreiber manages to sell this more confrontational, suddenly emotional leader quite well. If nothing else, it feels like the show has a pretty firm grip on its central character that he feels earned when he takes off his helmet in the pilot – something we’ve never seen happen in a Halo game or series before.
The Spartans are an important part of Halo, though the franchise has generally distanced them from Chief in order to sell his importance as a symbol of humanity. When he interacted with other Spartans, the results were mixed across the board, and the same goes for the series. While her fellow Silver Team Spartans – Rice (Natasha Culzac), Vannak (Bentley Calu) and Kai (Kate Kennedy) – don’t have much to do in the first pair of episodes, there are glimpses of potential. for them to be more than extra boots on the ground. (Again: There’s a real unease that ends up surrounding this show’s four main Spartans, even from the masters who deploy them.) But ultimately, it’s Bokeem Woodbine as the defector Spartan Soren who has most important in Chief’s life. When he appears in the second episode, Woodbine’s naturally laid-back vibe gives Soren real chemistry with Chief, enough to make you believe their characters were really good friends before their lives took different paths.
What’s surprising about the show is how much more emphasis it puts on parts of the Halo universe in which games have relied on extended media to dig into. It’s interesting how the show is set up to question the creation of the Spartans themselves: the UNSC kidnapped young children and, through the efforts of scientist Catherine Halsey (Natascha McElhone), experimented on them to become supersoldiers. The pursuit of knowledge of Halsey has always motivated her, and it has understandably driven a wedge between her and other members of the UNSC, including Jacob Keyes (Danny Sapani) and her scientist daughter Miranda (Olive Gray).
The twisted family that Halsey managed to make into Miranda’s UNSC, the Spartans, and Chief in particular is one of the biggest strains in the series. Surrogate parents having a weird dynamic with their kids is nothing new for TV, and the show really highlights just how much Halsey plays favorites with her supersoldier children, manipulating them for her own ends as well. What this family lacks, at least in the first two episodes, is the AI Cortana (Jen Taylor). Born straight from the mind of Halsey, there are teases about Chief’s future partner that could make or break the show, but nothing so solid yet about how the show will handle one of the most iconic partnerships on TV. franchise.
Having seen the first two episodes in advance, it’s clear that showrunners Steven Kane and Kyle Killen are very interested in exploring the Halo universe through a wider lens than the mainline games have provided. There’s enough fidelity displayed in Halo to prove that this is a show for the fans. But there’s also enough willpower here to shake things up, get a little looser and weirder so he can take the leader on a grand journey that could deliver some fun surprises.
Halo premieres today, March 24, on Paramount+.
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