HALO goes big early, but quickly becomes an unfocused mess

Very loosely adapting the popular video game franchise of the same name, Halo follows Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber) in an intergalactic war between humans the Covenant, an alien species whose ultimate goal could spell the end for all humanity.

Let’s start at the beginning – this hotly-anticipated sci-fi series kicks off with an absolute beauty of a pilot episode. Everything the first episode introduced was awesome, to say the least. The somewhat gritty tone, clean visuals, brutal action and the introduction of a loose, mysterious narrative are all major highlights that had me excited for what this series would bring. Little did I know this pilot would be a false prophet, delivering the best content of the entire series and promising something that would never come to fruition. From here, the series splits to follow to key narratives – a human-focused arc without any sense of an endgame, in which Master Chief’s ass-kicking qualities are hardly capitalised on – and an arc focused on the young Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha), which may be the most pointless and boring arc I’ve had to sit through.

The fast-paced beginning is marred by the slow, drudging pace of the subsequent episodes – lacking any urgency, hardly furthering the narrative and focusing of filling holes in character backstories that aren’t even slightly engaging. On top of that, the brilliant action seen in the first episode is entirely absent, having only two more action sequences spread over the subsequent 8 episodes. It feels as though there are moments where Master Chief’s arc is going to really take hold and become thrilling, though the complete opposite happens and it sometimes feels like he’s a side character in his own series. One of the biggest problems is that it doesn’t seem like there’s a clear end-goal the season is working towards until it gets there. It seems aimless, like it’s relying on its character relationships to keep people invested – but they’re just not that interesting.

The monumental misstep I still cannot explain is the presence of the Kwan Ha character. She makes absolutely no impact on the main narrative across the entire 9-episode run. Her arc is entirely disconnected from everything going on with Master Chief, which makes every second spent with her equally boring and confusing. She even has an entire episode dedicated to her rebellion efforts and it’s the most excruciating thing to have to sit through. With her arc gone, there could have been more time to actually flesh out the core story, or even compress everything so it drags less.

By far the series’ best element is the action. There’s only three large action sequences for the entire season, but when they hit – they hit big. Brutal, bloody, violent and fast-paced are just some of the words to describe these big war sequences. The series definitely doesn’t hold back when it comes to the violence, a great decision that instantly gives you an idea of just how strong the Spartans are in relation to regular soldiers. The brief uses of first-person action, an obvious homage to the game franchise, are fun and only elevate the action by bringing more variety. There are a couple other moments you could count as action sequences, but they’re much smaller in scale and not too exciting.

The visuals can at times be drowned out by those glossy white environments seen in many sci-fi projects, something I don’t really like, but it’s not an issue that makes a huge impact. Meanwhile, the visuals are fantastic during those action scenes I mentioned, making up for any holes elsewhere.

I’d usually use this time to comment on the performances that stood out, but none really stand out in a good way. Pablo Schreiber is the best of the ensemble, solely because he has the most screen time and the most to do, but I wouldn’t say he’s entirely compelling in the role. I don’t think giving a face to the Master Chief character is essential, but Schreiber does his best to ensure he’s likeable and you can root for him. Natascha McElhone plays Dr. Halsey, a complex character in the context of the story, and I really didn’t enjoy her performance. I don’t know if it’s a result of the direction she received, but I found her line delivery to be very stiff and unnatural, eliminating any interest in the character.

In the end, Halo had the groundwork for a potentially great series, but couldn’t capitalise on the areas that were its strongest. The first episode was fantastic and the last episode was a thrilling conclusion, but despite being bookended by great episodes, almost everything in between is disappointing. The action sequences are exciting and visuals are quite clean, but there’s a lot more world building needed alongside a clear-cut narrative to make this a worthy watch, especially when there’s stacks of quality sci-fi content already out there.

5.4/10

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