'Halo' review: Video game adaptation shows potential, but jury is still out
Courtesy of Paramount+
In the competitive age of upstart streaming services trying to find their footing and lure subs away from cable, the paradigm shift has claimed its latest piece of intellectual property: the much beloved video game “Halo” which has been repackaged as a Paramount+ franchise with the vibe and feel of “The Mandalorian” minus the adorable Grogu. Boasting a hefty production budget and noteworthy cast, “Halo” doesn’t belong in the pathos of horrendous video game adaptations (it’s not hard to pinpoint the successful ones versus the failures), but it lands somewhere in the middle. On one hand, the aesthetic certainly invokes fond memories of playing “Halo 3” on the XBOX 360 during the glory days of my childhood, and yet, over the two episodes provided in advance for reviewing press, there’s something missing. Could the studio be holding back the goods for future episodes? Obviously, but the jury’s still out on whether this series can stick the landing.
Fortunately for “Halo,” unlike “Assassins Creed,” it doesn’t always feel like a shameless cash grab though one can’t ignore it only exists because of its robust global appeal. Creative liberties are taken with the overall presentation, branching off and creating new timelines to help sustain longevity (“Halo” has already been renewed for a second season) and it’s found a serviceable Master Chief (the face of the game and series) in actor Pablo Schreiber. The show doesn’t waste a moment getting things cooking either, setting the stage with a relentlessly paced action sequence in episode one with an emphasis on the pace and scope showrunners Steven Kane and Kyle Killen hope to deliver for its audience. Even if the producers didn’t look to the game narratives for inspiration on where to steer Master Chief’s journey, there’s enough compelling breadcrumbs laid that signals a pulpy sci-fi adventure could be waiting in the wings. Time will tell.
“Halo” enjoys tampering with expectations on the backstory of Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 (Schreiber), a member of the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) who, in the first episode, is caught in a battle with a squad of lethal alien forces known as the Covenant. Though Master Chief is considered a Spartan super soldier bred and manufactured for two reasons: loyalty and killing, recent events have sparked, more like unlocked, memories of a past life. Suddenly, a moral code awakens inside the soldier and he quickly goes rogue after disobeying a controversial kill order. Along for the ride is Quan Ah (Yerin Ha), a refugee who was caught in the Covenant firefight on her planet of Madrigal, the home turf of an artifact those creatures need for world domination.
Though that description might not sound the most inventive or engaging, the bread and butter of “Halo” is the self-discovery lens of Master Chief or John. Unlike “The Mandalorian” which kept Pedro Pascal’s head concealed for most of the series, “Halo” isn’t afraid to showcase the strength and versatility of Schreiber’s emotive performance with the helmet off. It adds an extra layer even as the series struggles to find the correct footing in these early episodes.
As it stands, “Halo” has plenty of time to dig into the surface level of the world it’s trying to create. And from what’s been previewed, there’s lots of potential for where this show could be headed, plus the mythos will be fascinating to watch unfold. Then again, it could crumble under the weight of lackluster action sequences and even lamer character arcs, yet from a fan perspective, it was fun seeing the kinetic action with the HUD, first person perspective as Master Chief parkoured around his enemies as if I had the controller in my hand. It’s welcome now, but sooner or later, “Halo” will have to rise above cheeky fan service for something more sustainable.
HALO premieres Thursday, March 24th on Paramount+