Space marines are the face of the Warhammer 40K universe. Fans have been champing at the bit for a depiction of them in glorious live action to convey what makes them so awesome. Unfortunately for those Warhammer fans, they might have to wait a bit longer, or at least they should. Because the best way to introduce the Space Marines would be to hide them for as long as possible.
For those of you who hadn’t heard of Warhammer 40K before Henry Cavill announced he was working with Amazon on a project in the universe, here’s some background:
In the grim darkness of the far future, the Imperium of Man wages never-ending war across the stars of the Milky Way galaxy. Humanity faces down traitors, aliens, demons, and other horrors beyond reckoning in its quest for galactic dominance. However, regular humans alone are not up to the task.
In come the Adeptus Astartes, better known as the Space Marines. These power-armored behemoths are 8-foot-tall, genetically engineered super soldiers that exist only to kill the enemies of mankind. They are walking tanks with guns that shoot exploding bullets and they have chainsaw swords. One space marine model has a shield with a dude’s skeleton strapped on it.
In short, they’re really cool.
The Space Marines exist because humanity needed something to even the odds against the terrors lurking among the stars. They are so far above baseline humans as to be considered post-human. What would be a threat for a human soldier would be barely an annoyance to a Space Marine, and anything that can challenge a Space Marine would be borderline insurmountable for a regular human.
So, what is the best way to illustrate the power of these knights of the far future? What is the best way to show just how super these super soldiers are? Hearing of the Space Marines first by reputation, then seeing the results of their involvement in combat, and subsequently seeing them in action is a surefire formula to ensure that their impact is as large as it should be.
The Space Marines have the moniker the ‘Angels of Death’ in the Warhammer universe. Citizens of the Imperium view them with a religious reverence. They are the God-Emperor’s judgment made manifest, smiting the enemies of mankind with ruthless fury. Their armor is contempt, their shield is disgust, their sword is hatred. The vast majority of humans will never see one in the flesh. Instead, only representations of them in the vast cathedrals of the Imperium.
A canny showrunner could utilize the theocratic nature of the Imperium and introduce the concept of the Space Marines by using religious imagery and reverential dialogue. This could serve dual purposes. One, to establish the concept of the Space Marines as the ultimate warriors. Second, to provide exposition about the extremely religious nature of the setting.
If they do step one well, everyone will want to see the Marines. For step two, use this desire and redirect it like a form of narrative Aikido into building tension.
Every distant sighting, every partial shot, and every tease heightens the anticipation. The suspense builds and builds until it finally reaches its crescendo. If you see the Warhammer Space Marines right off the bat, you don’t get any of that. Instant gratification vs. delayed gratification.
Show the devastation that the Marines leave in their wake, show glimpses of them. Don’t show them in their entirety. Then, when the moment is right for step three, tear open the veil and let the Angels of Death unleash hell.
The best way for a Space Marine to debut is for one to utterly destroy—with minimal effort—something that previously eviscerated, disintegrated, ate, or otherwise destroyed human characters. To demonstrate in one moment the absolute unstoppable nature of these mighty warriors. To emphasize the relationship between human and post-human in the far future.
The greatest challenge for the introduction of the Space Marines will be centering an entire story arc around them. Space Marines do not know fear; they are warrior monks that only bring death to their enemies. Wringing drama and character growth from these stoic characters—these remorseless killers who had all human weakness hammered out of their bodies during their transformation and training–will be an uphill battle.
“They are my bulwark against the Terror. They are the Defenders of Humanity. They are my Space Marines and they shall know no fear.”The God-Emperor of Mankind
Narratively speaking, the Emperor’s Finest work best as spectacle, threat, or as a spike to the tension. Great for action scenes, but a potential snooze fest in the spaces between the violence.
So, with all of this in mind, Amazon should structure their first Warhammer project in such a way as to follow human characters to introduce the universe to the audience, allow some emotion and drama, and amp up tension in the battle scenes. Then, after they set up everything else, and the anticipation is at its apex, send in the Marines.
If they have the patience to delay a premature reveal of the Space Marines, it will pay off in the long run to make their eventual entrance so much more impactful.