Calling Into the Badlands pulp may be pushing the boundaries of pulp too far for some people. I’ll even admit that it’s at the edge for me, but comic books are in many ways the inheritors of pulp, and Into the Badlands is nothing if not a visual comic book. Costuming, color schemes, sets, and camera points-of-view are all clearly inspired by the works of comic writers and artists like Frank Miller, Mark Millar, Garth Ennis, and Warren Ellis. In fact, the show was created by veteran writer/developers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the producers of Smallville, another visual comic book. They were also the writers of the genre-bending film Shanghai Noon. Even a casual viewer will see some echoes of both of those products here in Into the Badlands.
Set in a post-apocalyptic future that mixes feudal barons, a strict caste system, and martial arts wuxia, the show follows a samurai/knight named Sunny who learns about a mythical place of peace and prosperity while protecting a young man who has become a pawn in the conflict between barons. Although the main character is a highly trained killer, he develops a sort of honor code and begins to rebel against the strict order of the feudal system, prompted in part both by discovering his girlfriend is illegally pregnant and also by his growing disillusionment with murdering people to line the pockets of his opium-growing baron.
I don’t think the show is anything spectacular or in any way great literature, but it is a fun romp filled with action and some kick-ass martial arts. It’s a story you’ve no doubt read or watched before, and it doesn’t do anything new or exciting to push the boundaries, but that’s not really the point, is it? Any fan of the Shaw Brothers movies or Jackie Chan knows that the plot is merely there to string together gorgeous fight scenes, and that’s also the case here. Into the Badlands plows some well-worn tropes and hits all the standard story beats, but it’s never boring. And maybe that’s why the critical ratings are justifiably right in the middle range.
Like I said, it’s not Earth-shatteringly good and you won’t come away with a changed outlook on life, but if you’re looking for the next action adventure show to watch on Netflix now that you’ve finished binge-watching Marvel’s Defenders, you could do a lot worse than Into the Badlands.