At times it seems like Into the Badlands struggles to find an identity. There are moments that draw inspiration from both Chinese and American culture, including spectacular kung fu fights and a charismatic antagonist who has a Southern American accent. Yet the more episodes you watch, it begins to meld nicely and the world opens up to some interesting, if not cliche, plot devices.
The series begins by introducing the Badlands, a region in a post-apocalyptic America that has been split amongst seven leaders called the Barons. While some modern conveniences have a place in this world, it’s shown that townships mostly forgo technology and have more modest accommodations. There are no TV screens, no computers, and guns have been completely replaced with blades and other melee weapons. There’s a feudal atmosphere that has been influenced by Asian cinema, though it is spoiled a bit by the use of cars. Characters regularly switch between traveling on horseback and automobile, which means there isn’t a consistent theme overall and calls back to my previous comments about the series struggling to find an identity. While the blend of Chinese and American cultures works for the most part, it’s little things like this that stop the audience from being completely immersed with the world.
The plot focuses on Sunny (Daniel Wu), the head Clipper – the series’ equivalent of a soldier – of Baron Quinn (Marton Csokas). One day Sunny encounters a teenage boy named M.K. (Aramis Knight) who has mysterious powers and is hinted to have come from a region beyond the Badlands. M.K.’s powers make him the target of several factions, including a Baron known as The Widow (Emily Beecham) who seeks to ignite tensions between the other Barons and establish her own rule. Throughout the six episodes we slowly learn that each character has their own motivations and goals, with Sunny in particular viewing M.K. as the key to leaving the Badlands.
The story is hugely character driven, and it’s interesting to see how the plot threads weave and entwine with each other. However they can be predictable and in some cases uninspiring. An example is M.K. falling in love with an assassin named Tilda (Ally Loannides). Tilda works for The Widow and is tasked with capturing M.K., but at the moment of truth she covers for him and pretends he doesn’t have any powers. It’s a love plot that has been done countless of times; there is little here that breaks new ground. Other plot points also feel rushed and underdeveloped, perhaps due to the season being a short six episodes. Baron Quinn has two wives and we briefly see the women quarrel over his affection. Suddenly they get along, and then attempt to betray each other again in the next episode. There’s a lot going on throughout the season which hurts the potential for greater character development elsewhere. Also, be warned season one ends on a significant cliff hanger and many plots are left unresolved.
The chemistry between the actors is natural and pleasant. Being a youngster, M.K. doesn’t always see eye to eye with Sunny, so the tension between the two offers some laughs. Csokas’ portrayal of Quinn is also superb, with the Southern gentleman having just enough insanity in his persona that you immediately feel the danger when he is on screen. Characters are believable which helps you understand their motivations.
Into the Badlands also features some incredible action scenes. Nearly every episode has a few kung fu or sword fights, and the director was not shy to include gore. Every sword slash sees blood squirting all around, and at times Sunny will snap the necks of his enemies. Inspiration has clearly come from classic martial arts films, with stunning acrobatic movements making the fights memorable and inspiring.
If you like action films and tv shows or are a fan of Chinese cinema then Into the Badlands will immediately appeal to you. For all its flaws and some lack of originality, there’s quality acting and above all else, decent entertainment. If you’re looking for something original or with a more thought provoking plot, then you need not apply.
- Amazing fight scenes - Great chemistry between actors
- Struggles to find its identity - Plots are too predictable and not original