Set in the 26th century, Halo tells the story of the war between the human United Nations Space Command (UNSC) and the alien Covenant. The show follows the Master Chief, a Spartan; Spartans are genetically modified humans designed to be perfect soldiers. It is based on the game series of the same name.

To be clear, I am not a huge Halo fan. I have played Infinite, most of Reach, watched some lore videos, and just absorbed knowledge by being into gaming. So, I went into this show trying to keep an open mind. The show is a strange beast and it’s hard to really explain all my thoughts on it. So, let’s stop beating around the bush and dive into it.

(L-R): Miranda Keyes (Olive Gray) and Dr. Catherine Halsey (Natascha McElhone) in Paramount+'s HALO. Photo Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+
(L-R): Miranda Keyes (Olive Gray) and Dr. Catherine Halsey (Natascha McElhone) in Paramount+’s HALO. Photo Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+

Pacing

One of the big issues with the show is pacing. The first episode is an exciting episode that sets up a lot for the series. Then the second episode is a slow and boring episode that feels like a CW version of The Mandalorian. The biggest offender is probably episode 7. Episode 7 focuses entirely on side characters and the b-plot after a very riveting and intriguing episode 6. Furthermore, within individual episodes, there were pacing issues. Consequently, I would find myself not very engaged for large portions of the episode. Thankfully, as the series went on these pacing issues improved and I was more engaged.

Kwan Ha

The characters of Kwan Ha really brings the show down. I understand the desire to have an outsider’s perspective on the UNSC and to have a character act as an audience surrogate. However, I think Kwan Ha is just poorly written. Secondly, her plot is just not all that engaging. And unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, her character feels very CW.

Ultimately, there is no real reason for her to stay in the show after the second episode. I don’t see why the show focuses so much on her. There is more than enough drama and story to be found in the UNSC vs Covenant story. And plenty of story about the internal strife of the UNSC as well. Kwan and her story all feel so far removed from the rest of the show.

(L-R): Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber) and Makee (Charlie Murphy) in Paramount+'s HALO. Photo Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+
(L-R): Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber) and Makee (Charlie Murphy) in Paramount+’s HALO. Photo Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+

Adaptation Issues

As mentioned earlier, I am not the biggest Halo fan. I have a fairly small knowledge of the game lore, but I know enough that some of the changes the show makes, I found really off-putting. Firstly, there is the whole helmet issue. Now, I understand why the show has Master Chief remove his helmet. It establishes trust between him and Kwan in a moment of crisis, it shows Chief’s growing humanity, and it just makes it easier for the actor to act. That said, Chief is iconic partly because he never takes the helmet off. If, The Mandalorian can have a character that rarely removes their helmet so can Halo.

Secondly, Master Chief talks too much. Again, I understand the show’s reasons for this. And Pablo Schrieber gives a very good performance, but it makes the show feel more divorced from the source material than it should. Not to keep comparing this show to The Mandalorian but I think that level of dialogue from the main character would be a happy medium between the show version of Chief and the game version of Chief.

Lastly, the show acts more like a prequel to the actual Halo story than anything else. Hardly, anytime is actually spent on the titular space ring. Once again, I understand why the show does this. And once I accepted the show was its own universe and telling its own version of Halo I enjoyed it more. However, I still want to see the show actually cover the story from the games. I’m not saying it should be a beat-for-beat recreation but, it would be nice for the show to actually adapt its source material some and not just do its own thing.

Vinsher (Burn Gorman) in Paramount+'s HALO. Photo Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+
Vinsher (Burn Gorman) in Paramount+’s HALO. Photo Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+

Dr Halsey

Dr. Halsey is easily the best part of the show. As a character, she is the most fun to watch. And the most fun to hate. That is to say, you love to hate her. Halsey is driven, cold, manipulative, and above all else obsessed. She is obsessed with bettering humanity. However, she believes she is the only one capable of reaching that goal. In pursuit of her goal, she has kidnapped, manipulated, and sacrificed everything.

Her obsession brings her into conflict with the other members of the UNSC. Specifically, her conflict with Master Chief is the most interesting to watch. Halsey has been a mother figure to Chief his whole life not because she genuinely cares for him but because she sees Chief as the best way to achieve her goals. However, at times I found myself questioning that assumption. Maybe deep down Halsey actually does care for Chief.

Additionally, her conflict with Captain Keyes and her daughter is fascinating. Halsey shoved those two aside in order to meet her goals and they mostly still work with and defend Halsey up until her actions are fully exposed. All in all, Halsey makes for a great antagonist and is the character with the most depth to them in the whole show.

Admiral Margaret Parangosky (Shabana Azmi ) in Paramount+'s HALO. Photo Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+
Admiral Margaret Parangosky (Shabana Azmi ) in Paramount+’s HALO. Photo Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+

Cortana

Cortana is the second-best part of the show. I will admit I was off-put by Cortana’s appearance, and how it differed from the games, but by the end I quite liked it. Cortana is the result of Halsey’s mad science and an AI meant to control Master Chief. However, Cortana’s journey mirrors Chief’s and she becomes more human as Chief does. Cortana is also a great character for Master Chief to bounce off of. They have a really great dynamic. I would say Cortana’s introduction in episode 3 marks a clear point where the show starts to trend in a mostly positive direction.

Action

When the show decides to do big action, it does it really well. For instance, the first fight on Madrigal in episode 1 is great. It demonstrates how brutal the Covenant is and how efficient the Spartans are. The show also occasionally has some first-person POV shots in these fights. The POV shots really give the show a unique feel while also looking straight out of the games. Another action scene I really enjoy is the one at the end of episode 5. That fight seems like it could have been pulled straight out of the games.

Even some of the smaller fights are well done. While I mentioned my dislike for episode 7 earlier, it does have a good fight scene towards the end. And there are many other smaller fights sprinkled throughout the series that are fun to watch. Especially, in episode 8 when the other Spartans are mobilized to fight Master Chief.

(L-R): Kai (Kate Kennedy), Vannak (Bentley Kalu), and Riz (Natasha Culzac) Paramount+'s HALO. Photo Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+
(L-R): Kai (Kate Kennedy), Vannak (Bentley Kalu), and Riz (Natasha Culzac) in Paramount+’s HALO. Photo Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+

Costumes

Another thing Halo is good at is looking like the games. I think all the costumes in the show look great and feel authentic to the games. In particular, I think the Spartans look the best. The design clearly put a lot of love and effort into those outfits and it absolutely paid off. All the background characters in the UNSC look great as well.

VFX

The VFX in this show is odd. At times it is really great. Other times, you can clearly tell they are unpolished. I’m not sure why that is. And it is really frustrating. Because sometimes the Covenant soldiers look fantastic, other times they look awful and like something from a fan film. Unfortunately, the inconsistent VFX quality would take me out of the show, even during those big battle sequences I enjoy so much.

Overall, the show is a mess. Albeit, an enjoyable one at times. There are a bunch of other issues and things I like that I did not even touch on. I think as an adaption of the Halo games it is not great. But as a Sci-Fi show, it is alright. There are moments of greatness in the show and the end of the season puts the show in place to make some good changes. Ideally, Season 2 would focus more on the UNSC and Covenant conflict and adapt parts of Halo: Reach or Halo: Combat Evovled. In sum, the show has the potential to be really good but it gets lost in the noise of focusing on other more generic things.

What did you think of Halo season 1? Are you excited for Season 2 to come around? Let us know by mentioning @ReviewedCinema on Twitter, and don’t miss Halo streaming exclusively on Paramount+.

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