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INTO THE BADLANDS Review: ‘The Fort’ Delivers Western Wuxia

INTO THE BADLANDS Review: ‘The Fort’ Delivers Western Wuxia

Eight months ago, AMC finally debuted the first trailer for Into the Badlands, its new martial arts drama starring international superstar/upcoming Warcraft baddie Daniel Wu. Last night, the series opened with one of the more impressive TV action sequences in recent memory as Wu’s character, Sunny, annihilated a group of nomads. It was really intense and brutal, especially the part where Sunny bent a man backwards like a pretzel. Any doubts about the action of Into the Badlands were immediately dispelled. It’s everything else that’s in question.

The setup for the series is that Sunny is a Clipper, a roaming assassin/enforcer in the service of one of the seven barons who currently control civilization. Here’s the short version of the show’s exposition spiel: the barons own everything, slaves are called cogs, and there are no guns in this dystopian future. The only reason that Sunny slaughtered the nomads is that they killed his master’s cogs and released one of them.

After dispatching the last nomad, Sunny opened a chest and found the missing cog, M.K. (Aramis Knight). Normally, it’s a girl in the box; this time, it was a boy. Eventually, M.K. told Sunny that The Widow paid the nomads to deliver him to her, but he claimed that he didn’t know why. Despite M.K.’s pleas to be released, Sunny took him back to the fort to meet the baron.

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Which brings us to Baron Quinn (Marton Csokas), Sunny’s master and one of the seven barons. Quinn was introduced in an incredibly tedious scene in which he spoke to the Colts (a.k.a. the potential Clippers) about what an honor it is to serve him. This dude would just not shut up about himself and it absolutely killed the momentum of the episode. Even the attempt to bring the focus back on Sunny did nothing to save this scene.

That’s the biggest problem with Into the Badlands. Nobody except Sunny registers as a character, and even he is largely one-dimensional until the end. All the martial arts action in the world isn’t going to save this show if fans don’t have a compelling reason to watch the series. Baron Quinn was like a more annoying version of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character from Django Unchained. Quinn even sounded like a southern slave master!

But if you really want a bland character, you should meet Quinn’s son, Ryder (Oliver Stark), the upstart who clearly wanted to take his father’s place on the throne. Ryder also wanted to start a war with The Widow, and his very rash impulses were quickly shot down by both Sunny and Quinn. Later in the episode, Ryder even showed jealousy towards Sunny when he complained that Quinn always listens to Sunny instead of his own son.

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Back with the other Colts, M.K. was immediately attacked by Ajax (Shane Graham), who stole a silver pendant from his neck. Sunny broke up the fight, but kept the pendant for himself, since he noticed that it resembled an object that he owns. Later in the episode, a second fight between M.K. and Ajax revealed that M.K. is a mutant…or something. When he bled, M.K. became even stronger and he completely trashed Ajax before putting out one of his eyes with a shard of glass. That was hardcore, but I’m not quite sure what to make of that twist. Sunny was also astonished, when he witnessed the tail end of M.K.’s transformation.

“The Fort” also contained a bit of palace intrigue, as the Baron’s first wife, Lydia (Orla Brady) openly seethed about the Baron and his newest wife, Jade (Sarah Bolger). Lydia was also pushing Ryder towards a larger role in the Baron’s empire, which gave her a Lady Macbeth vibe. That’s more characterization than Jade received, and her apparent seduction of Ryder at the end of the episode came out of nowhere.

Sunny was apparently hiding secrets of his own, as his origins appeared to be tied to M.K.’s in a city called Azra. Sunny had a lover on the side named Veil (Madeleine Mantock), and apparently they will both be killed if she lets their child come to term. Sunny also appeared to have a history with The Widow (Emily Beecham), who issued an ultimatum to Sunny for M.K. after unleashing a few assassins on him.

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That fight scene in the rain between Sunny and The Widow’s assassins was easily the highlight of the episode. It was a thing of beauty and the choreography was top notch. I wish the rest of the episode had been capable of maintaining that level of excitement. So far, the fight scenes have been amazing. Everything else, not so much.

Events came to a head when Ryder caught M.K. trying to steal back his pendant. Rather than let M.K. be executed, Sunny set him free…and Lydia saw him do it, which will undoubtedly come back to haunt Sunny. But in the meantime, M.K. got away, and Sunny contemplated his future in the service of the Baron.

As noted above, Into the Badlands delivered everything that it promised on the action front. Unfortunately, the rest of the pilot episode was disappointingly subpar. Into the Badlands will get at least five more episodes to win over fans. But the jury is still out on the rest of the series.

What did you think of the first episode of Into the Badlands? Throw down in our comments section below!

Image Credits: AMC

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