What do you get when you mix AMC -the network behind The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad– with Kill Bill? Well here’s your answer. Into the Badlands is *absolutely* what would happen if someone who loved Kill Bill just finished watching Netflix’s Daredevil and the History Channel at the same time. Into The Badlands is AMC’s new I.P that channels a post-apocalyptic feudal world via Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. But as cool as Karate Kid in Mad Max land might sound, can this show pull off this strange combination? I hope my wire fighting team is ready, let’s sweep the leg on this thing!
I don’t always ride a motorcycle. But when I do, I look cooler than Van Damme and James Dean combined.
Into the Badlands was created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar and tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world in which the bygone era of barons, regents and classism has returned. Every baron is different, and is protected by their own mercenary-like security force called ‘clippers’. Our hero Sunny (played by Daniel Wu) is the regent (AKA clipper captain) to Baron Quinn, and herein our story unfolds as Sunny struggles with his conscience, his personal life and his duty to his Baron as a war begins to brew. Given AMC’s cockamamie idea of super short 1st seasons, Into the Badlands is forced to pack its world building, narrative and ‘hook factor’ into a very short period. It’s admirable then, that it largely succeeds; fleshing out its world AND telling a passable story in only 6 episodes. It’s well paced, doesn’t meander and overall feels well thought out for its 6-episode run time.
Into the Badlands has a fairly fresh world that feels reminiscent of many Sy-Fy originals, though it thankfully does not rely on their infamous special effects. Aside from the stylised fight choreography though, this is about where the standout features end for this show. Because while I did overall enjoy ‘Badlands, I think this is a case of 1995’s Mortal Kombat movie syndrome; wherein I thought it was great and people wondered what’s wrong with me.
And here we see young Princess Kitana going through her ‘Winona Ryder’ phase.
Into the Badlands is kind of AMC’s off-beat attempt at combating Netflix’s Daredevil; in that it showcases a guy in red leather kicking a whole lot of hiney. This isn’t a bad thing if this is your bag, because while stumbling through its pilot, by the end of the episode ‘Badlands declares ‘daddy I’m a real show now’ with a damn good sword fight in the rain. It’s like watching Road to Perdition starring Jet Li. What I mean to say is this is the Mortal Kombat movie again; a mostly well-constructed narrative that has passable dialogue and acting but succeeds in what it came here to do: fight scenes. And when it comes to fight sequences, Into the Badlands definitely came here to play with the big boys. And maybe kick their sand castles over a little bit.
A rare photo of English soccer fans settling their differences ‘civilly’.
This is not shaky-cam fighting like the Bourne series, nor The Raid’s dance-like perfectionism. Into the Badlands’ creators have said from its inception that they planned to bring more eastern choreography and visuals to the table, in the spirit of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Kill Bill and so on. This is exactly what they did, and much like the Mortal Kombat movie (is it obvious I love that film yet?) this is the payoff when American creators with respect for the eastern style do it right. Into the Badlands has awesome fight sequences that embrace wire-work and team it with a few flavours; one moment elegant sweeping motions, the next brutal stabbings and bloody gore. This show seriously pulls no punches, knowing exactly what it is and not caring who it alienates because of it. Into the Badlands hands you popcorn and like a true ‘gnarly dude’ shouts ‘hey guys, watch this!’. However this approach has one fatal flaw; much like that gnarly dude, he’ll either stick the landing or end up in an ambulance. If you’re not a fan of this type of action then I highly doubt there is anything here for you, because ‘Badlands is heavily stylised and just like that radical dude, relies strongly on your willingness to make that ‘fully sick’ jump.
Look out Kate Beckinsale, Emily Beecham is here to take your throne.
Amidst the awesome action pieces, Into the Badlands doesn’t forget its characters, even though it sort of forgot to cast most of them. What is largely present in ‘Badlands is the shadow that looms over all popular television: ‘tv acting’. DUN DUN DUNNNNNN. Yes, sadly most of this show has been cast with cardboard standees.
With the exception of our hero Sunny and our pseudo antagonist ‘The Widow’, the cast of this series are generally ‘meh’. Baron Quinn is played by Marton Csokas (The Equalizer) who is a decent actor, but has a bit of trouble reigning in his ‘yee-haw-grandma’ accent here. Though Quinn presents an interesting character, he is overshadowed in the acting hiccup department by Aramis Knight as M.K. and Oliver Stark as Ryder. Or as I like to call them, ‘the generic-o whiner babies’.
“Who’s my tough little serial killer?” “…I am” “That’s right, now time for bible studies.”
M.K would present an interesting character in the series if he was more charismatic than a rock with an amusing hat. Ryder however is just an outright unlikable sod that rivals Joffrey Baratheon for ‘annoying little turd of the year’ award. Knight and Stark may not necessarily be bad actors, but their characters are written into a corner here. A whiny, teen romance-y, annoying little corner.
Though it’s not all mediocre when you pass Sunny and The Widow, because soon enough your heart is uplifted again when you see the brilliant blue eyes of STEPHEN MOTHER-FUNKING LANG.
That’s right, Mr. Dear-god-cast-me-as-Cable himself is here to save the day! As effortlessly watchable as ever, Lang is only minimally sprinkled throughout the series but shows his stuff yet again by out acting the whole cast from a wheelchair. Now I don’t know if that says more about Lang or the rest of the cast here…but hey, any port in a storm, ya know?
Wow, it sure was nice of those hatchet wielding maniacs to all strike in a line like that.
At the end of the day Into the Badlands has been a pretty mixed bag, and is honestly a hard one to review. Personally I am a big fan of this style and felt that when the series hit those action notes it really soared.
But one swallow, does not a summer make. Sadly, Into the Badlands is hampered by some forgettable characters and no real standout performances. Overall this is not a bad show, but is far from the calibre of other AMC flagships like The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. I find myself invested in this story at the end of this first season, but hope it improves where it seriously needs to. If lavish (yet extremely brutal) fight scenes are your thing, then you’ll have a good time with this series. If not, then I would give this a miss. In time I feel Into the Badlands will find its audience, and I will weather ridicule now by admitting that I am part of it. The question is, will you be?
Into the Badlands is available now on Digital, DVD and Blu-Ray, so go bicycle kick your way to it! Check out the Entertainment One website for more details.
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SUMMARY: An interesting mix of contemporary television and hyper-stylised martial arts, Into the Badlands sets out to do one thing and do it well: fighting. Exceptional action sequences abound in this fast paced series that brings eastern fight choreography back to the western audience once more. Sadly doing one thing well is not enough for everyone, for those who are not a fan of this brand of action, look elsewhere. A decent series with great action, but should you pull the thread Into the Badlands quickly falls apart.