Halo is finally a serialized TV show. Oh dear.
Fans and long devotees of this sci-fi franchise are given a promising proof-of-concept of Halo when it puts the controller down. But the Master Chief is out of his element more than ever. The show doesn’t struggle to escape its video game roots. It barely floats thanks to high production values and a compelling spin on lore. Instead, Halo aimlessly wanders through a saturated sea of sci-fi dramas. It’s unsurprising for new viewers who dig programs like The Expanse and Battlestar Galactica. But Halo struggles between adapting the familiar and creating something bingeable. Viewers can get lost in all its melodrama before checking the progress bar.
I’ll admit that adapting Halo isn’t a cakewalk. Changing its interactive medium brings consequences. Halo’s immersion came from its larger than life gameplay. Its unique world expanded before the eyes of aging gamers. Players connected with Master Chief through every iteration of his armour. The anticipated series sacrifices this special flair only video games can deliver. Fans will be divided from Halo’s passive delivery. Some patience is needed as each episode slows down to let new audiences in.
The Halo series falls short without a strong connection to its franchise. While this isn’t the first time Halo went live-action. Neil Blomkamp’s Landfall clips in 2007 offered a menacing peek at the battlefield. Forward Unto Dawn in 2012 proved it could tell a new chapter with a blockbuster lens. The franchise attracted Ridley Scott, who produced Nightfall in 2014 despite its flat novelty. Each of these live-action productions felt experimental. Sadly, its latest series still doesn’t quite reach Hollywood levels.
Executive producer Steven Spielberg does enough to pull fans into another expansive science fiction realm. CGI landscapes of human settlements are well blended with practical sets. The Master Chief constantly looks around in an effort to keep up with Spielberg’s own brand of world building. Objectively, it’s still too early to decide if Halo goes all-in on what makes the franchise so special. This includes looking behind UNSC’s witty jarheads as they dive head-first into technologically advanced territory. But Halo’s first two episodes have yet to bring out this distinct tone. But Banshees, Pelicans, Battle Rifles, Elite Cloaks and Shield Recharges are galore. Halo aesthetically nails the franchise’s staple elements. Down to Chief’s Mjolnir armour inspired by Infinite.
Viewers won’t take long to feel Halo’s B movie vibes. Its first episode doesn’t waste any time by tossing terms like UNSC, Spartans and Reach around to satiate fans. Then literally tossing Master Chief from the sky (as shown in the trailer) to thrash around some Elites. An action-packed opening doesn’t carry that grand scale of humans versus Covenant. While its cinematography borders on a polished fan film. It doesn’t help that viewers can easily tell the poorly-rendered CGI elites apart from that supposed Hollywood camerawork.
“Viewers won’t be convinced they’re on a planet named Madrigal any more than being at an outdoor paintball facility.
This flat delivery shatters Halo’s authenticity across its first two episodes. Viewers won’t be convinced they’re on a planet named Madrigal any more than being at an outdoor paintball facility. A bulk of the show’s action and Covenant asses are handed to Silver Team. Halo is sparing with Chief’s team, which includes original Spartan Riz-028 (Natasha Culzac), Kai-125 (Kate Kennedy) and Vannak-134 (Bentley Kalu). The team also works one-dimensionally without much of a connection to Chief himself. The show pays a nice nod to Halo 5 through Silver Team’s strong loyalty against all odds. Halo does make an effort with Soren-066 (Bokeem Woodbine), who charismatically carries the second episode. Chief and Soren start to steer the plot off course, but thankfully, a much-needed twist at the end puts Halo back on track for episode three.
Halo rightly stays away from the canon timeline. According to 343, the series is set in its own “Silver Timeline.” This gives the series space to add new elements and frees itself of video game baggage. Aesthetics aside, everything seemed to be in order at first. The UNSC is at the height of its power. Covenant forces and human insurrectionists have a bone to pick with them. The Spartans are still a work-in-progress. The Master Chief/John-117 (Pablo Schreiber) is still centre stage in Halo. Sticking closer to his game roots, this Chief still puts on a violent show. Particularly when he faces off against a group of Elites and flexes those superhuman muscles.
It wouldn’t be fair to diminish the live-action Chief with his game counterpart. Halo does its best to show a vulnerable and more human side to him. Schrieber doesn’t sport a reserved, stoic delivery of lines as Steve Downes. Instead, viewers get the most empathetic version of Spartan 117 yet. He’s chattier, a loose cannon and even cracks a joke or two. Halo takes a risk by shedding Chief’s imposing nature. But I’ll leave it to viewers to figure out when that moment hits (and it does so like a brick wall). Halo does an adequate job of keeping its plot focused on Chief, who starts to question his purpose. The trailer reveals a mystery which starts as he comes across a Forerunner artifact.
“Halo impressively jam-packs a significant amount of world building in its first two episodes.”
Without spoilers, Halo excels by putting a familiar face in this new situation. Chief’s own quest to unravel a personal mystery takes him across some new locations across space. But viewers might have to be patient before seeing Halo truly open up its universe. I appreciated the show’s unique relationship between Chief and new character Kwan Ha Boo (Yerin Ha). Halo takes its time in showing off Kwan’s life as a scrappy, but vengeful Insurrectionist. This adds a bit of conflict between her and the Chief. But their chemistry dances around Chief’s fondness for his new ward. Ironically, Kwan shows Chief a missing part of himself. Their budding dynamic adds a fun twist to Halo, but it’s not enough to see the universe through Kwan’s eyes. In a nice touch, viewers get to explore the UNSC’s hypocrisy more than Halo Reach ever did.
In true TV fashion, the show regularly jumps across a variety of existing franchise characters. Dr. Catherine Elizabeth Halsey (Natascha McElhone) comes to life in her first live-action debut. But her role quickly falls into a cliched doctor with secrets. This barely adds to the mystery behind Chief and his discoveries. But Halsey serves enough selfishness to make viewers question her morals. McElhone plays a wonderful Halsey as she obsesses over Chief’s progress. Her goals are ironically deterred by UNSC’s higher-ups, including impatient ONI Director Parangosky (Shabana Azmi).
Halo brings back Jacob and Miranda Keyes (Danny Sapani and Olive Gray respectively) from the games. While their family connections are thoughtfully sewn in every conversation. Halo’s showrunners do the supporting cast justice by paying respects to their game versions. There are also just enough surprises taken straight from Halo 2’s cutscenes. While those rarer scenes pull viewers deeper into the Covenant’s side of the conflict.
Halo impressively jam-packs a significant amount of world building in its first two episodes. But its formulaic story, underwhelming special effects and sparing action give viewers little to remember. The show’s B movie tone diminishes its own vision for a proper adaptation. I leave some room for Halo to surprise audiences across the season. Ahead of more episodes and a renewal, there still is plenty of time for Halo to grow.
Two episodes in, Halo has enough warning signs to turn fans and newcomers off. Viewers will be divided between watching a half-baked adaptation which takes risks in one scene. Then stare aimlessly at sci-fi noise in another. Its action promises jolts of entertainment throughout, thanks to camerawork that doesn’t deviate. Audiences should also keep an open mind if the storytelling, world-building and surprises ramp up across season one. Until Showtime and 343 Industries fully accept Halo’s rich foundation, the show can still bring something fresh through live-action splendor.
Note: Spoiler-free! This review of Halo is an impression of the first two episodes provided by Paramount.