By James Nelson
To be quite literal, AMC’s new series, Into the Badlands is the most insane show I’ve seen in a long time. That, in a sense isn’t to be unexpected. As we push deeper into the Golden Age of Television, dramas are reaching ever deeper into the genre fiction playbook to find things that will separate it from all the other fare out there. Into the Badlands has done so in such a blatant manner that they’re actually stumbled onto something incredibly appealing and (mostly) original.
The Premise is a Collage of Insanity
So this is the best way I’ve found to describe it in one sentence: Into the Badlands is like a live action anime adaptation about a Kung Fu “Game of Thrones” set in the Post-apocalyptic American South. Now let me actually describe it to you, and you understand what I mean. The show is set in some distant future after some great war that no one remembers. In the ashes of this great war a group of “Barons” came together and divided resources among each other and established a defacto state. These barons then trained a Kung Fu army (they never actually say what martial art they were trained in, but this show is first and foremost a martial arts heavy one), called Clippers to enforce their rule. It’s a pretty simple one to follow, and as the story unfolds over the first three episodes, more is revealed, subtly, about the world they live in and how it actually works. Its more akin to how The Hunger Games lays out its world versus Game of Thrones; it’s subtle and doesn’t beat you over the head with exposition.
The Characters are all Badasses
This is one of those things you’ve got to accept going into this: everyone in this show knows how to kill people with their pinky finger. There’s even this really excellent fight where the old regent (head clipper) for Baron Quinn beats the tar out of a young colt (clipper in training). The old regent, Waldo (played by the criminally underused Stephen Lang), is in his wheelchair THE WHOLE TIME. This would normally get boring if it weren’t for the fact that EVERYONE seems to be a Kung Fu master, so even some bro in a bar can threaten the main characters. On the whole, the world is a very violent place (and without any firearms whatsoever) it would make sense to know a thing or two about fighting. In speaking of fighting …
The Fight Scenes are Incredible
The fight scenes on the show are so excellently choreographed and executed that they are easily the best on television. The only one that comes close is Daredevil, but it’s not a close second. The best fights in Daredevil essentially are the bad fight of each episode.
Each one tends to have two or three big fight scenes, with one being the big one, and the other two being significantly shorter. The problem sometimes with Kung Fu movies is that they can be so heavily choreographed that the fights just become elaborate dances. This show stays clear of that. Each one is visceral, bloody, and feels closer to fights in a Tarantino movie rather than Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
The Characters are the Weak Link
As with many martial arts focused films, the show does lack a plurality of strong characters. So far the best have been Sunny (Daniel Wu), The Widow (Emily Beecham), Quinn (Marton Csokas), and of course, Waldo (Stephen Lang). Thankfully, this seems to be largely because in the first three episodes the series has only had time to focus on Sunny, Quinn, The Widow, and M.K. Much of the plot surrounds M.K., a kid and obligatory chosen one, (they’ve never said those words, but he’s seemingly heading down that road,) who The Widow is trying to use to kill all the other barons because of some special Kung Fu juju he has. He’s the weakest character when compared to the amount of screen time he has.
A Different Kind of Post-Apocalypse
The thing that makes this whole Kung Fu Deep South possible is the post-apocalyptic caveat at the beginning of the first episode. It’s lets us know that this is a different world, but at the same time, it’s a different kind of post-apocalypse. Granted, no one seems to be thriving here except for the barons, but everything is brighter than I’m used to. It might be because I’ve been playing Fallout for the last three weeks, but the first image of the fort (the heart of the setting) is a lush field of poppies, and behind the Fort’s walls are tall, strong, and ancient Willow trees. Unlike shows like The Walking Dead, where you’re seeing civilization and the world around it decay, Into the Badlands, ironically shows a world that’s mostly crawled out of their ruin. In a lot of ways it’s refreshing, because it’s almost like hope is in it’s premise.
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