Out of the Past
In a Lonely Place
Force of Evil
The Wrong Man
Man With My Face
Clash by Night
Rage in Heaven
From the opening scene through to its climactic finale, Altered Carbon’s world building and visual design is incredible. There’s clear influences from Blade Runner, Deus Ex and Ghost Of The Shell here and the story plays out in an imaginative and believable future. With violence, nudity and bloodshed throughout, Altered Carbon is certainly not for the faint heart. The story is a little too convoluted and major plot points are left unresolved until near the end of the show, hindered further by the methodical pace and questionable acting which hurts the appeal of what’s otherwise a very good looking sci-fi flick.
The story starts simply enough and quickly becomes more complicated with added flashbacks and multiple subplots woven through the plot line. At its most simplest form, Altered Carbon follows Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), a man who’s awakened 250 years after his violent death and hired by a company to investigate a man’s death to be granted his freedom in return. In this future, death for the rich results in simply switching consciousness to another “sleeve” (body) if you can afford it resulting in an interesting hierarchy between the rich and poor. Add clones and AI into the mix and Altered Carbon’s world is beautiful but also largely confusing for large swathes of the 10 episodes.
Peeling away the obvious complications of the world, Altered Carbon is a story of two halves. The first is slow paced, ladled with flashbacks and follows Kovacs as he comes to grips with his new body, investigating the case he’s given. The second half quickens in pace and changes to focus on the revealed antagonist, stopping them from carrying out their plan. It’s not until late on in the series that questions are answered, the case eventually solved and meaning to the various flashbacks we see throughout the episodes given some much needed clarity. With each episode a little under an hour, its certainly a long and confusing ride to get there.
During the moments between flashbacks and realistically depicted violence, many of the characters really struggle and the dialogue falls flat. Having not read the book, it’s difficult to comment whether this is a flaw of the source material or the adapted script but Altered Carbon feels more lacklustre and monotonous than it should. There are certainly moments where Carbon shines but its largely as a result of the big plot reveals, violence and world building, rather than the dialogue and script. There’s also a questionable amount of nudity along with a few sex scenes which honestly don’t really add anything to the series. Whilst some of it is understandable as Kovacs investigates strip clubs and the violent underbelly of this world, questions may inevitably be asked whether there really needs to be 3 or 4 sex scenes.
There’s no denying that Altered Carbon has a great aesthetic though and whether it be panning across the neon-soaked skyline, Kovacs walking through the bustling underbelly of the city or simply experiencing some of the future tech, Altered Carbon’s world building is outstanding. The fight scenes are well choreographed too and there’s a good range of martial arts, gun fights and sword fights throughout the episodes used to good effect to break up the dialogue.
Fans of sci-fi will instantly fall in love with Altered Carbon. The breathtaking world and lore is incredibly realized and every part of the show drips in visual splendour. The neon-infused city is a joy to explore and the various scenes feel like they’ve been ripped from the future. The plot line is a little slow and incredibly convoluted at times but if you can persevere, a lot of this confusion is rewarded late on with a satisfying finale.
Although a second season is teased, there’s enough here to deliver a decent conclusion, even if the acting and dialogue is questionable on its journey to this point. Altered Carbon has all the ingredients to be an incredible show which makes it a little disappointing that it falls down in a few key areas. If the second season can improve on the dialogue and script work, delivering a plot with a little less convolution, we could easily be looking at one of the best sci-fi flicks since Blade Runner.