Here’s the long and short and AMC’s new kung-fu, sci-fi action adventure series ‘Into the Badlands’: The fight scenes are very well done, but everything else about the show is terrible.
It’s the future. Like, a really, really long time into the future. Post-apocalyptic, sort of. In the distant past, there were quote-unquote “wars” that were really bad or something. Ever since then, guns have been banished. Why? Because: Future.
Human civilization has returned to a feudal state. Why? Again, because: Future. The world is run by powerful Barons who enslave everyone in their territories. They enforce their rule with armies of ninja assassins called Clippers. Why? Because: Ninjas are awesome. Duh.
Our hero is a Clipper named Sunny (Daniel Wu). Sunny is a BADASS. You can tell because he rides a motorcycle and wears a leather duster and sunglasses. Also, he carries a ninja sword and kills the hell out of anybody he doesn’t like. He has tattoos all over his back marking the hundreds of people he’s murdered for his Baron.
We meet Sunny when he encounters a dozen or so mangy Nomads who have broken a rule they weren’t supposed to break or something. They aren’t impressed by Sunny and think they have an advantage because they outnumber him. Well, he’ll teach them. The Nomads attack Sunny one at a time, which, as everyone knows, is always the most effective way to fight a ninja. CRACK! CRUNCH! SNAP! SLICE! YEEEEAAAARRRRRGGHHH!!!
One dozen dead Nomads, and Sunny without a scratch on him. B-A-D-A-S-S, hells yeah!!
The dead Nomads leave a trunk behind. Sunny opens it and finds a teenage kid inside. His name is M.K. (That’s going to stand for something really stupid, isn’t it?) He says that the Nomads were hired to capture him by someone called “The Widow.” Later, we’ll find out that she’s a newly-anointed Baron who claimed her position by murdering her husband, and she controls all the oil in the area, which makes her very powerful. Why does the Widow want the kid? He says he doesn’t know. Obviously, he’s lying.
Sunny brings M.K. back to The Fort, which is the palace of his own master, Baron Quinn (Marton Csokas). Quinn runs a massive poppy plantation, speaks in a ridiculous parody of a Southern accent, and behaves like a cult leader. He promises his servants “the best of everything” so long as they pledge their undying fealty in return. Sunny deposits M.K. with a group of similarly-aged kids called Colts, the young recruits training to become Clippers.
M.K. wears a necklace with a pendant that’s very special to him. One of the other Colts is a bully and steals it. When M.K. tries to get it back, the bully beats him up a little. At the sight of his own blood, M.K.’s eyes to turn black and he goes all Matrix-y, flipping through the air in defiance of all laws of physics to kick the bully 30 feet across the room and through a wall.
Sunny confiscates the necklace. The pendant looks just like a special compass that he has. Whoa, they must have a connection! M.K. says that he comes from outside the Badlands (that’s where they are now, apparently), and the pendant represents his home city. The kid blacks out whenever he sees his own blood and has no control over his body. He just wants to return home and find his mommy.
OMG, could this kid be “The One”? Could the pendant be the symbol of an ancient legend that fortells the coming of a magical messiah who will save the Badlands and free the oppressed? Gosh, wouldn’t that be a surprise?
That night, Sunny gets cornered by a bunch of bad ninjas who want to fight him in the rain. Why? Because the creators of this show have seen a lot of kung-fu movies where ninjas fight in the rain and that looks awesome, especially in slo-mo.
Once again, Sunny kicks the ever-living shit out of all of his opponents. When he’s done, the Widow steps out of her car. (Yes, people in the future have mid-20th Century cars that are maintained in pristine cosmetic and working condition, but nobody can make a damn gun.) She says that this was just a test, and Sunny passed. Yeah, right. She offers Sunny a job working for her if he’ll return the boy to her custody. Sunny passes.
Meanwhile, the Baron’s son catches M.K. trying to steal the pendant back from Sunny’s quarters. He puts the boy in a cage and sentences him to be executed the following morning, but Sunny helps him escape the palace. The Baron’s scheming Lady Macbeth wife sees Sunny doing this and tents her fingers ominously.
The pilot episode has some other subplots as well, including something about an upcoming wedding, strife between the Baron and his son, some political machinations and other assorted bullshit, but honestly, who the hell cares?
Episode Verdict / Grade: D
This show is dumb. It’s a half-baked collection of clichés with next to no effort put into the world-building, as if the writers expect that the audience will recognize enough of the clichés that they don’t need to bother explaining anything. The production also looks extremely fakey, from the stagy sets and obvious green-screen backgrounds, to the cartoonishly oversaturated color scheme and Sunny’s blatantly temporary tattoos, which appear to have been drawn on about five minutes earlier. Even the fight scenes, despite certainly being well-choreographed, feel derivative of dozens of movies you’ve undoubtedly seen. Even if you’re not a kung-fu movie scholar, I’m sure you’ll recognize enough of ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Crouching Tiger’ in here to be bored.
Frankly, I’m not surprised. The ads for the show never inspired much confidence. Still, I held out some measure of hope, especially when recent commercials boasted that, “AMC proudly presents…” There’s nothing to be proud about here. ‘Into the Badlands’ is ridiculous and awful, and not even fun about it.