Into the Badlands Season 1 Review

TV:
Mitchel Broussard

Reviewed by:
Rating:
2
On November 10, 2015
Last modified:November 10, 2015

Summary:

Given all the potential Into the Badlands had to be a weird and unique oddity, the generic kerfuffle of swords and fists and blank-faced heroes that AMC settles for is downright disheartening.

Into the Badlands Season 1 Review

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Riding on Knight’s performance, the Fort-set part of the first hour is slapdash and generic, so eager to be exactly what you expect of it that the writers lift the excruciatingly annoying bully character and near-fatal bathroom brawl right from Ender’s Game (it doesn’t help that Knight himself appeared in the big-budget adaptation of that classic novel back in 2013). As M.K., he’s not awful, just uninspired, and he fails to give the genesis of the season’s plot any real emotion or meaning, a glaring issue given how big a part he plays.

Likewise, Wu is aggressively unengaging as the kung-fu master at the nexus of the series. He plays Sunny as a stoic, sensate man of duty, but with no backstory or emotional undercurrent behind some of the actions he takes in the first two hours besides that “he’s an orphan,” he’s hard to connect with. “You got a name?” M.K. asks Sunny after the Clipper rescues him from his kidnappers early on in the premiere. “Or do you just show up, kill people, and leave?” Honestly, that’s not a bad summation of the emotional depth found in the first two hours of the series.

All the same, most tuning in are probably here for the action, an angle that the marketing team behind the show are clearly eager to rely on. The fight sequences are appropriately energetic and fluid, with the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon middle finger to gravity and physics required for the genre, but it’s also overeager. The problem, yet again, stems from a lack of connection to any dramatic conflict that instigates a fight, or any character who finds themselves tangled in all of the broken bones, eviscerated chests, and twisted limbs.

On a pure viseral level, action junkies may get all they need out of Into the Badlands in that regard. The fist fights are crunchy, and once the swords get thrown in, the gore budget skyrockets (“Guns were outlawed,” says M.K. in that cold open. How? Why? When? All answers Into the Badlands really doesn’t care about). But the fights are also self-important and border on the masturbatory the longer they trudge on, in occasional slow-motion for added gratuitousness. Showrunners Alfred Gough and Miles Millar are obviously aiming for a goosebump-inducing set-piece or two per episode, but a lack of tension to these scenes highlights the Looney Tunes nature of it all, nerfing any enjoyment of the show’s lone saving grace.

There’s just too many inconsistencies in Into the Badlands to truly recommend it even on that action junkie level: the world is vibrant but hollow, the fighting is over-the-top and chaotic but the show is overbearing and self-serious. Even the barely-mentioned mythology, which provides hints of a mysterious hidden city called Azra and a potential connection to Sunny’s family, gets repeatedly dragged down by the fact that its two leads just don’t work off one another. The show’s rote characterizations (don’t expect a kick-ass female here) and eye-roll plot lines (drinking game: take a shot each time Quinn’s infidelity is brought up) constantly undercut the trail-blazing story it is ostensibly inspired by, and Into the Badlands ends up settling for being just another generic superhero show with swords.