Into the Badlands is a lot of things. Primarily, it’s a martial arts, kick-your-teeth-in action hour. That’s the biggest takeaway from it.
Secondly, it’s a deep south adventure show, very reminiscent of the early ‘90s Action Pack programming block. Or, heck, ‘90s syndicated action shows in general.
(Except, okay, only one person really has a southern accent here. Somehow.)
Thirdly, it’s a quasi-adaptation of the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West from the Ming dynasty. Then, of course, we have the vague sci-fi/fantasy stuff. And oh yeah, there’s some noir in there too.
But there’s this nice cheesy texture covering it all. It tastes kinda like Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. And you know what? That’s tasty. Like Cool Ranch Doritos tasty. So, obviously, after I was done watching the first episode, I was ready to reach in the bag and grab another one.
Yet Cool Ranch Doritos, just like any other species of Doritos, are guilty pleasures at best. And although there are some very sophisticated elements that have gone into the production of this show, Into the Badlands is also a guilty pleasure. Not because it’s an action show, either. The stunt sequences in the pilot are top shelf.
No, the guilt in the pleasure come from the Americanization it all. It makes me flash back to those old Godfrey Ho Kung Fu flicks where storylines with US actors were spliced in to sell a completely different movie to Westerners. It throws me off. It’s like a fusion cuisine dish on a Chili’s happy hour menu. It’s not really authentic (am I hungry today, or what?).
Daniel Wu is great as Sunny. His grave disposition with vulnerable undertones really sells the tone of the show, and we feel like trusting him more than anyone else on the show – even though he’s killed a bunch of people. He’s what they call a Clipper, which is not a Los Angeles basketball player, but more like a soldier that works for one of the handful of Barons that own different territories in the Badlands.
What are the Badlands, anyway? I’m not really sure. They’re dangerous, I guess. Almost Mad Max dangerous. But there are no guns. Nope. Everyone uses swords and fists. Apparently there is honor in the Badlands. Because post-apocalyptic wastelands full of poppies need a code of honor.
As a series premiere, “The Fort” is structured very well in some areas and not so well in others. Starting off with an action scene was exactly what the show needed to do to introduce itself. The way the rest of its running time established the world of the Badlands and the rules was impressive, because there was a crapload of info to know upfront. I think that’s the riskiest part of the show overall, actually: how overly complex it is. Especially since we’re all there for the action.
There were some scenes that ran on too long with characters I was barely interested in. Not because I didn’t know anything about them, but because they weren’t very interesting. I get that folks are running Kung Fu plantations or whatever, but I do I want to see their relationship problems? I’m sure it will have bearing on the plot, but it comes across as filler-y.
The character of M.K. feels like a TV Trope that I can’t think of right now. “The introverted kid that has a superpowers” or something. Aramis Knight plays him well, but his demeanor s pretty one note so far. He is the figurative key to Azra, which we think is an art deco city that lies outside of the Badlands. He also has mutant powers when he gets upset, apparently.
(What did I tell you? Total trope material.)
The Widow is probably the most intriguing character in the show besides Sunny. I think it’s because she has that Christina Hendricks thing going on and we know that she’s going to kick some arse. Strong female characters in action shows are always fun to watch, especially when they overpower their male counterparts, so if Into the Badlands becomes a hit, I bet she’ll steal the show.
“The Fort” is the equivalent of your world history teacher giving you a hard homework assignment on the first day of school. Into the Badlands wants to hit the ground running, but it wants you to stay behind and study it using flashcards. You can’t hook people with ballsy martial arts action and expect them to go to cram school to understand your plot. Or maybe it’s just that Into the Badlands skipped the “fast pace” step of the Westernization process.