Rumoured (both in TV and movie format) for such a long time, a live-action adaption of Halo was finally released in March of 2022. Developed by Kyle Killen and Steven Kane for the streaming service Paramount+.
Season one throws viewers straight into the action where the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) is locked in a war with an alliance of advanced alien races known as the Covenant. Alongside the war with the Covenant, the UNSC’s attempts to colonise planets, and bring them under their banner, has been met with resistance and insurrections.
For many, the UNSC are as dangerous as the Covenant, especially as they have some of the most powerful soldiers in the galaxy known as Spartans.
This group, Silver Team, is led by Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 (Pablo Schreiber) and consists of Kai-125 (Kate Kennedy), Riz-028 (Natasha Culzac), and Vannka-134 (Bentley Kalu). They are super-soldiers, trained from a young age, and augmented and implanted with abilities to make them the great warriors.
It worked, as everyone fears the Spartans, but in a particular, the ruthlessness of Master Chief. Even the Covenant have a name for him. They call him the demon.
Season one of the show focuses on several key areas across its nine-episode run. Firstly, the race to get a pair of artefacts that, when connected, will apparently show the way to a super-weapon known as the Halo. Secondly, Master Chief and the rest of Silver Team learning about their past and how they’ve been manipulated by the UNSC, and in particular, Dr Halsey (Natascha McElhone). Thirdly, an insurrectionist called Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha) as she attempts to free her planet, Madrigal from the grasp of the UNSC.
All these stories, and so many more, are interweaved together because, if there’s one thing everyone can agree on about Halo, it’s the clear ambition to make this show big.
Arriving with a lot of expectation and hype, after all, Halo is one of the most successful franchises in gaming. The first season of the Halo TV show hasn’t exactly won over everyone. On the one hand, the high budget, sci-fi action-orientated, well-acted effort has been praised. On the other hand, many have seen it as a poor adaption of a beloved game series that has taken serious liberties with the source material.
I sit somewhere in the middle, leaning more towards enjoyment. This is because I’ve never been that much of a fan of Halo. I’ve played plenty of the games, and had a really good time (in particular with Halo 3) but that adoration so many others have, I just don’t. That means the TV tone shift and how the Halo lore is interpreted doesn’t bother me. It’s Halo, I understand enough of it to recognise the world, characters and story beats.
That being said, I have also seen enough adaptions to know what a poor portrayal of source material looks like. While I don’t feel it here, I do understand if you do think Halo deviates too much.
I’ve pointed all this out, because I think the reason I enjoyed this show so much, is because I didn’t really care what the show creators did with Halo. My expectations were low, especially after seeing trailers, so if it was just ok, it wouldn’t have mattered to me.
Halo does more right than wrong, delivering a sensible and thought-out story that manages to world-build without being confusing for newcomers. An immense cast of characters and actors portraying them is a major component of why the story remains so gripping. Especially when, early on, it has many slow moments. Thankfully, these are mostly so the story can be told and the next stages cane be explored.
The world of Halo feels alive, and not just because the locations and effects are so good. It feels alive because of how the characters experience it. Be it the events that take place on the UNSC planet of Reach, the events of Kwan’s home, Madrigal, or even events that take place on a Covenant holy planet.
It could have easily got bogged down in a ‘look at this’ and ‘look at that’ kind of story-telling, been too heavy on the game references or been action with no substance. That is not what Halo does. Everything seems to matter, and when the action happens, it’s big. There is a real sense of excitement that comes with the Spartans entering the fray.
Now, the creators knew that Master Chief needed to be the focus but also knew the limitations of his character, so take some liberties.
Throughout Halo, he shares the screen with a litany of characters and his story, while still extremely important, isn’t always the focus. Alongside that, the show makes the early decision to ‘humanise’ him, including taking off his helmet. It feels forced initially, but as the show develops it becomes more natural and makes him more watchable. Pablo Schreiber is too good of an actor to not be allowed to act and he is wonderful in the role.
He is not alone though, and massive praise can be laid at the feet of pretty much every actor in this show. They cared, they put the effort in, and it pays off.
I loved it, but it’s not perfect, so, here are some of the issues I had.
Pacing. Early on, it is a little all over the place as it tries to establish characters, locations and motivations. A lot of information can come at you at once, and then nothing really happens for a while. There are moments where it needed more time to tell the story and then there are others where you know cuts could have been made that might have meant it was a bit tighter.
The Spartans, as a whole, while extremely powerful and fun to watch, can sometimes be a little stupid. Their slavish devotion to the UNSC is one thing but to their creator, Dr. Halsey? That does result in some odd moments, notably in the penultimate episode.
Then there is the entirety of the Kwan story, beginning in uninspired fashion as she wants to avenge her father and people. It gets better as it goes on, particularly when she teams up with Soren-066 (Bokeem Woodbine), a Spartan deserter turned pirate. Then it gets a little silly when mystic tribes and destinies are introduced. Hopefully, this can be elaborated on in season two.
Finally, it’s the video game stuff. Now, thankfully, Halo isn’t chock-full of references and when it does something, such as going into FPS mode, it adds to the show. However, characters, Chief in particular, will sometimes deliver a line that just comes across forced and cheesy. Most notable when, during a battle with Covenant forces, he tells Cortana off for trying to help him saying that “he knows how to play the game”. Oof. That’s bad.
Nit-picking? Absolutely, but considering my low expectations of the show before, the fact that all I have is nitpicks, is great. Adapting Halo in a live-action TV show was always going to be a difficult task and there certainly needs to be more before it can be considered a resounding success. That being said, season one turned out to be extremely enjoyable and I can’t wait to see what happens in season two.
Halo - Season 1 (2022)
The Final Score - 7/10