Altered Carbon is a neo-noir detective story with a futuristic sci-fi backdrop. Cross genre projects such as this can be tricky to pull off, but while Altered Carbon is not without its missteps, it is certainly a successful venture.
The premise of the show, involving human consciousness that can be moved into a new body when the old body dies, is certainly an interesting one, raising questions about the existence of the soul and the morality of high-end designer bodies.
The strongest aspect of the series is without a doubt the stunning cinematography which manages to encapsulate the gritty darkness of noir in a sci-fi setting, resulting in a vivid and well realised world for the story to take place in.
In addition, the choreography and special effects are masterfully done. The fight scenes are a joy to behold and it never gets dull watching Kovacs, our stoic detective protagonist, taking out goons whether in fist fights, knife fights, or firefights.
The plot is also worthy of praise. While the murder mystery premise is far from original, it is well executed and the intrigue is sure to keep viewers interested until the crime is solved. Kovacs’ frequent detective monologues are a nice touch and further contribute to the series’ neo-noir aesthetic.
While the incredibly graphic sex and violence at times border on the excessive, it is not out of place in the genre, so it never feels gratuitous.
The dialogue is perhaps the weakest part of Altered Carbon, with many lines feeling cheesy and almost poorly written. While this can be jarring at first, as we are slowly introduced to the characters and the setting, the clichéd dialogue goes from off-putting to almost endearing, in a strange way.
This is no doubt partially due to how reminiscent it is of the dialogue found in classic noir detective stories. The show even references such stories at times, in a meta and self aware wink to the audience.
The characters too are interesting and fairly fleshed out; they play well off each other, particularly the pairing of Kovacs and Poe, a delightfully eccentric artificial intelligence hotelier with the dress sense and mannerisms of a nineteenth-century gentleman.
The acting is, for the most part, very solid. Joel Kinnaman’s performance as Kovacs is a definite highlight and his American accent is believable enough that you won’t realise he’s Swedish until you look him up.
Ultimately, the first series of Altered Carbon is thoroughly enjoyable to watch and despite a slightly weak opening, the series improves with each passing episode. If you are a fan of detective stories, sci-fi, or even just great action sequences, Altered Carbon is definitely a show to consider watching.
Image: Torley via Wikimedia Commons