SXSW 2022 TV REVIEW: Paramount+’s Halo (First Two Episodes)

Year: 2022

Series Creators: Steven Kane, Kyle Killen

Cast: Pablo Schreiber, Bokeem Woodbine, Yerin Ha, Natascha McElhone, Shabana Azmi

By Tom Moore

Paramount+ throws their hat in the very competitive ring of video game adaptations with an adaptation of the legendary “Halo” series.

A “Halo” adaptation is no small feat as it is one of the biggest and most pivotal gaming franchises of all time. In nearly every step of the gaming community’s evolution, “Halo” has played an important role. “Halo” has been one of the most popular multiplayer games even before online gaming connected the world, so much so that it was a major rival to “Call of Duty” for quite some time. “Halo” features one of the strongest user communities in gaming as Forge mode has been an excellent tool for user-generated content, including the creation of RoosterTeeth’s “Red Vs. Blue”. Paramount+’s “Halo” series isn’t even the first live-action adaptation as Microsoft and 343 Industries, the studio behind recent “Halo” entries, released the beloved live action web series “Forward unto Dawn” leading up to “Halo 4’s” release.

Now, fans have a big-budgeted, Steven Spielberg backed “Halo” series that legitimately brings the series to life in an incredibly epic fashion. Fans will absolutely gush over how some of the game’s biggest aesthetics are brought to life in live action. From how familiar sound cues manage to be heard in key moments to iconic enemies and vehicles resembling their game counterparts, this series effectively shows some real love for the games that fans will adore. Even the way the game’s iconic HUD is prominently paid homage to through some of the first-person perspective shots is really something special.

Best of all though is how Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber) is brought to life as his iconic Spartan armor is nothing short of astounding. Master Chief, the leader of a genetically engineered super-soldier division called Spartans, is a towering badass in the games who leads the fight against a terroristic alien force known as the Covenant. Every epic quality and pristine detail is captured perfectly in his screen presence as his armor and stature is absolutely awe-striking and even better in action. Master Chief in action shows him to be the badass fans know him to be, especially with its more graphic action.

Halo
Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief in Halo Season 1, Episode 1, streaming on Paramount+. Photo Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+

Contrary to what most might expect, “Halo” isn’t an incredibly bloody or gory series like other shooters, especially “Call of Duty”, but this adaptation takes a more graphic approach to the action that doesn’t go unnoticed. Simply within its opening battle, “Halo” offers a lot of jaw-dropping destructive action and holds nothing back in seeing Master Chief and fellow Spartans decimate the Covenant’s Arbiters. It’s honestly wild when you first see it and is one of the many interesting changes this series makes compared to the games that can be a blessing or a curse.

This “Halo” adaptation actually establishes its own canon and sets its own precedent for things that some fans will definitely take exception to. The series takes a different approach to Master Chief’s identity under the armor that goes directly against the game’s take on the character – mainly him taking off his helmet. Throughout “Halo’s” existence, fans still don’t know what Master Chief looks like under his armor, so the series takes a big risk in taking it off at times and it doesn’t always pay off. Personally, I think Master Chief’s armor is such a key identifier of him that when you remove it for even just a second, it takes something away. It’s a choice that loses the luster of having Master Chief be brought to life and although Schreiber gives a performance that fans will love, his presence as Master Chief feels lesser when he’s not in the armor.

There are other big changes that will likely take some getting used to, but other than viewers getting a glimpse of Master Chief under the armor, the new story direction for “Halo” shows some potential if it can delve a little deeper. At this moment, the Covenant just aren’t that interesting since they aren’t delved into much in the early episodes and overall, the whole moral dilemma the series pitches about whether the Covenant or UNSC, the military organization Master Chief fights for, is good or bad is weak. Frankly, the world building isn’t really there yet as it doesn’t establish the full weight of this galactic war between the Covenant and the UNSC. Even some of the side characters haven’t left much of an impact yet and you can’t help but crave the arrival of more notable characters, especially Jen Taylor’s Cortana.

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The Covenant in Halo Season 1, streaming on Paramount+ 2022. Photo credit: Paramount+

However, there’s some good hope for what Master Chief’s personal story could deliver as the pieces are set for him to have a great central arc. His discovery of his past through interacting with a mysterious piece of tech creates this interesting portrayal that sees him break out of this mind prison the UNSC has seemingly stuck him in and take charge in a personal way. It even gives greater reason to have Master Chief be out of his armor as the series take a deeper look at Petty Officer John-117 rather than just the Master Chief persona. There are also some interesting connections being made between Master Chief and Sorren-066 (Bokeem Woodbine), a former Spartan trainee, as well as Kwan Ha Boo (Yerin Ha), a rebel that Master Chief saves, that could chart an interesting path for Master Chief’s story.

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Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief, Kate Kennedy as Kai, Bentley Kalu as Vannak, and Natasha Culzac as Riz in Halo Season 1, streaming on Paramount+ 2022. Photo credit: Paramount+

“Halo” certainly still has some work to do to provide an epic and groundbreaking adaptation that fans deserve but lays the groundwork for both fans and newcomers to love this new Halo canon. At the very least, it’s full of epic and ambitious action that’s a total blast to watch and spares no expense in bringing to life one of the most iconic video game protagonists of all time with some genuine love and care.

***”Halo” will premiere Thursday, March 24th on Paramount+ ***

3.5 stars

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