Basically: If you’re a high octane martial arts movie fan, the Badlands are exactly where you want to be.
Disclaimer: I cannot give an unbiased review of Into the Badlands. AMC’s post-apocalyptic martial arts fantasy is everything I loved as a child, and everything I continue to love today. It’s good, my friend.
The second season of Into the Badlands finds our lead character, Sunny, in chains and a yoke, on his way to enslavement in a coal mine worthy of Fury Road. This is a huge contrast to the opening of S1. In the first season we meet Sunny when he’s on top of the world. Back then, he was the highest ranking clipper (a cross between warrior and assassin) for his Baron, who was one of the seven rulers of the Badlands. In his first fight, Sunny’s status rings out in every clang of his swords—he is elegant, dispassionate, deadly—a member of a well regulated although treacherous society.
When we rejoin Sunny in season two, things have changed. He double-crossed the wrong people and they paid him back by shipping him off to the “outlying territory”. The outlying lands are anarchy; opportunism, poverty, and outright cruelty rule. We watch Sunny absorb the gravity of his loss as he stares into the faces of people who have no one to depend on and no Baron to keep the order. In his first fight, of Season 2, Sunny battles for more than survival, he’s fighting for the life he dreamed of. He is desperate, furious, deadly—a man who finally knows what he wants because he’s seen the downside of society.
Sunny’s arc sums up the journey of the show itself. In S1 much of the joy was in the excitement of the world-building and in getting to know the characters. At times, to some, the mashup of cultures seemed incongruous, for me it made sense as a destroyed society rebuilding itself under rule of the strongest. Plus, the fight scenes and intrigue were fun to watch.
In S2 Into the Badlands knows exactly what it wants to be. The world-building has gelled, which gives the creators a strong canvas on which to paint the stories of its main characters: Sunny, MK, Veil, and Tilda (Daniel Wu, Aramis Knight, Madeleine Mantock, and Ally Ioannides respectively). MK is studying in a monastery, attempting to control his powers. Veil…she’s in trouble. Tilda is now the Regent (head clipper) for The Widow and things get hectic. Each of them is separated into a troubling situation of their own. Each faces a challenge in the form of another character, and they’ve all discovered new allies who may or may not be on their side.
No spoilers, but there are great surprises this season. That’s all I’ll say about that.
There’s such strong writing here, even when the characters make ill-advised choices it feels honest. As an audience, we get caught up in watching the leading four fight their way back to each other, and by the end of episode 3 we’re left to wonder if they ever will.
If you’ve seen the trailers, you know to look out for Nick Frost as Sunny’s new ally Bajie. And if you’ve seen Nick Frost in anything you know he’s always good.
Now we come to the main event. THE FIGHT SCENES! Which executive producer Al Gough calls “the secret sauce of the series.” If that’s the case, bring me more television smothered in sauce. I’ve been a fan of martial arts since the beginning. My parents didn’t need pacifiers because Shaw Brothers flicks did the trick. That’s why I can tell you without reservations that Into the Badlands delivers Hong Kong style martial arts on a level that would make Jet Li and Yuen Woo-Ping nod their heads. The choreography is fierce and precise, making the stakes that much more intense. The series spent a lot of time training its actors; it pays off—their fights and stunts take things up another level. I squealed at several points in Episode 3. Yup. It’s that good.
In the end: I repeat, I squealed with glee at several points. Hurry up and go watch the premiere of Into the Badlands – Sunday, March 19 at 10/9c on AMC.
Season 1 is now available on Netflix.