Review | Halo (The Premiere Episodes)
“Halo breaks free from the shackles of its game origins and leaps into the realm of live-action with all guns blazing. The action is crisp and visceral, and the universe is vast and cinematic,” says Phil in his review
Video game adaptations are a tricky affair. Some are shameful cash grabs with no respect for the source material, and others are barely passable. So when Hollywood decided to turn its attention to a franchise as beloved as Halo, eyebrows were bound to be raised. And now, after numerous delays, the series, developed by Kyle Killen and Steven Kane is finally premiering on Paramount+. But can this team truly stick the landing and deliver a series worthy of the source material?
Thankfully, the answer is yes. Paramount’s Halo series is a visually stunning treat that harnesses the brilliance of the game series to deliver something truly unique. And although the series has yet to reach its full potential, the premiere episodes just about do enough to keep us invested. So whether it’s game-style visceral action; a grandiose space adventure, or even a cosmic mystery, this series has something for you.
The series kicks off with a breathtaking first episode. Set in the 26th century, the plot follows humanity’s war against an alien threat known as the Covenant. The lizard-like alien race is searching for some long-lost ancient artifacts which put them on a collision course with a dilapidated human colony. But when their attack results in the complete annihilation of the settlement; the UNSC dispatches an elite group of troops known throughout the galaxy as SPARTANS. And leading this particular group of warriors is the franchise’s iconic soldier Master Chief Petty Officer John-117.
Within minutes of their arrival, the Covenant’s supremacy is ended in a brutal fashion. And Master Chief is left to tend to Kwan; the colony’s only survivor. But there is a far more pressing mission at hand because Master Chief and Silver Team swiftly locate the artifact’s final resting place. But when it reacts to Master Chief’s touch; the series swiftly turns into a quest to save the colony’s only survivor from the very people charged with her protection. And a daring adventure to uncover Master Chief’s role in the galactic conflict.
Now, to be clear, I will not be delving into spoiler territory. This series deserves to be experienced firsthand. But needless to say, the series taps into the essence of the source material and expands upon it gloriously. From there we explore Master Chief’s quest to discover his role in the grander scheme. Lensed through a series of events on both sides of the war, we soon discover that Master Chief is having flashbacks to another life he never knew existed.
It was always going to be an uphill task to create a new backstory for a long-term game character like Master Chief, but series creators Steven Kane and Kyle Killen have developed an arc that helps with the transition from gamer-verse into live-action. And in truth, it helps us to transition from our role as the gamer into a viewer. However, this approach is not without its controversies. Long-term fans may be put off by the fact that Master Chief REMOVES his helmet during the series; an obvious alteration from the gaming universe. But here, it is essential. And it allows us as the audience to bond with him and become firmly invested in his journey of self-discovery. And it is here that Pablo Schreiber grabs the proverbial bull by the horns!
The same can be said for the plot of the opening episode. The writers cleverly drop us into an opening gambit that feels wholly familiar. Master Chief does what he does best, and we get to see him fully unleashed in all his lethality. We explore the legends of the Keystones and the lineage of the Covenant. But by the time we get to explore episodes two and three, the series begins to morph into an entirely new prospect. And the Halo playbook is tucked away back in the draw for future reference.
As the credits roll on the second episode, Kwan is paired with Bokeem Woodbine’s Soren, an escapee from the Spartan program. Their turbulent relationship is fraught with hotheaded clashes that serve to hammer home the galaxy’s divided views about the UNSC. And in doing so help to flesh out the wider Halo Universe as a whole. Something the in-game universe could only hint at.
Now, with the divisive choice to remove Master Chief’s helmet addressed, we should all prepare ourselves to welcome Pablo Schreiber into our pop culture treasure trove. In Halo, he truly delivers a poignant performance that, at its height betrays the real price associated with becoming a Spartan. And as the series progresses, we truly feel for him. And his pain will resonate with us all. As will his relationship with Kwan. From the outset, his paternal bond with her is a major focal point for the series. Which is a tantalizing prospect for us to explore as the rest of the series unfolds. And it’ll be fascinating to see where they end up when the dust settles.
Moving on to the cinematography of the series and I’m pleased to report that it looks aesthetically glorious on every level. The in-game look of the Halo universe has become synonymous with the gaming universe. And I am more than satisfied with the results of the live-action incarnation. The show truly feels massive in scale. And the visceral action feels hugely cinematic in a way that puts most shows to shame. The Spartan’s iconic Mjolnir armor has been replicated down to the minute detail. And it looks every bit as clunky and cumbersome as you’d expect. And the tattered, worn-in look of the show expertly replicates the ambiance of George Lucas’ original Star Wars.
However, the CGI isn’t as crisp as you might expect. And in some sequences involving the Spartans, some of their jumps and movements are a little too cartoon-like for my taste. But with a souring production cost rumored to be in the ballpark of $200M, the quality is shocking at times. But these are all minor detractions from what is otherwise a solid series so far.
Throughout the first three episodes, Halo breaks free from the shackles of its game origins and leaps into the realm of live-action with all guns blazing. The action is crisp and visceral, and the universe is vast and cinematic. But the series has yet to hit its stride and grow into something more than just another ‘The Expanse‘ imitator. The solid performances of Natascha McElhone as Dr. Catherine Halsey, and Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief serve to keep the series tethered to its roots and dish up enough breadcrumbs to keep us invested. Which is the hallmark of a great series. But with its formulaic storyline and frequently clunky CGI, the fans can be forgiven for wanting more.
But with six more episodes in the Paramount+ locker and a second season already in the bag; the sky is the limit for Halo. If Kyle Killen and Steven Kane set out to deliver the Halo gaming universe on a grandiose scale then they succeeded. Effortlessly. And with its huge budget, blockbuster atmosphere, and cinematic scale, it’s only a matter of time before the series breaks the mold entirely. And that will be a game-changer!
Halo is streaming exclusively on Paramount Plus now with new episodes every Wednesday! Subscribe now and explore a treasure trove of content here.
Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force and babbles frequently!