“Halo” isn’t the first videogame to become a movie or TV show, and it certainly won’t be the last. But the series faces a formidable challenge crafting a Paramount+ show around the contours of the game, one that it seeks to master largely by slapping together pieces of established properties – a little “RoboCop” here, a bit of “Starship Troopers” there, and a whole lot of “The Mandalorian.”
That’s not necessarily all bad, and the series generally looks splashy, although the action is heavily frontloaded in the first of the episodes previewed. But nor does it feel special or distinctive, and while committed players might welcome seeing this world fleshed out, the derivative touches can’t help but make the whole exercise feel generic, exhibiting a lot of hardware but not much creative spark.
Set in 2552, the series opens with the denizens of the planet Madrigal fighting for independence from Earth, before they’re attacked by ugly and murderous alien invaders. The battle looks completely lost until the intervention by a unit of Spartans, super-soldiers said to be worth 100 Marines each, later described by Earth’s resident mad scientist (Natascha McElhone) as “enhanced and trained for one purpose: To fight for us.”
The mission brings the Spartan leader, Master Chief John 117 (“The Wire’s” Pablo Schreiber), into contact with a strange artifact that risks jolting him out of his carefully programmed stupor. He also rescues a young girl, Kwan (Yerin Ha), creating the stop-if-you’ve-heard-this-before framework of an armored warrior protecting a vulnerable minor that he squires across the galaxy.
There’s a bit more to it than that, including glimpses of The Covenant, an alien command center that resembles a giant floating mushroom. The producers (a long roster that includes Steven Spielberg) also incorporate a nod to what’s come before by casting “2001: A Space Odyssey” star Keir Dullea in a supporting role, as Master Chief returns to his home planet, Reach, and a new set of bureaucracy and challenges.
“Halo” has gone through a series of creative contortions through the years – including plans for a movie, then a series, and input from different showrunners – before landing at Paramount+, and that history appears evident in the hodgepodge nature of the enterprise. Essentially, the streaming service’s bet is that some of those millions of players will be curious enough to check it out – a reasonable assumption based on the viability of concepts like “Tomb Raider” and the recent “Uncharted,” if hardly a sure thing.
At one point, someone marvels that the alien object in Master Chief’s possession is “like nothing I’ve ever seen.” Yet the main problem with “Halo” is that if you’re at all familiar with the movies mentioned above and their ilk, it actually feels like bits and pieces of everything you’ve ever seen, just wrapped up in shiny new armor.
“Halo” premieres March 24 on Paramount+.