Netflix's sci-fi epic 'Altered Carbon' has a great concept, but its compelling narrative gets lost in violence and overindulgence

NetflixJoel Kinnamon as Takeshi Kovacs
  • Netflix’s new sci-fi original series “Altered Carbon” has an interesting concept, but it gets caught up in excessive violence and terrible dialogue.
  • It’s heavily influenced by existing sci-fi, especially “Blade Runner,” and it’s distracting.
  • It also depicts a lot of violence and mistreatment of women, a sci-fi trope that feels outdated in 2018.

The marketing for “Altered Carbon” (out Friday), has been bigger than any other freshman Netflix series in recent memory.

Last month, Netflix announced that in 2018, it will increase its marketing budget by 50%, to $US2 billion. And “Altered Carbon” is setting the tone. For most shows it has put out, including “Stranger Things,” Netflix’s marketing has been either non-existent or incredibly subtle, allowing its viewers to determine what becomes a hit. Now, Netflix is deciding what it thinks will be the next big show.

Set more than 300 years in the future, “Altered Carbon” is based on the 2002 novel of the same name, written by Richard K. Morgan. In this future, human beings can live well past their natural death through technology that allows their consciousness to transfer to new body after they die. These bodies are called “sleeves.” Think that sounds cool and amazing for everyone? There’s a catch: the richer you are, the better sleeves you get.

The mind of criminal Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman, “House of Cards”) was frozen for centuries until Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy, “Rome”), a very wealthy man, brings him back in a new sleeve. In exchange, Kovacs has to help Bancroft solve a case: Bancroft’s murder. Kovacs’ investigation, as expected, leads to a grander conspiracy that could affect the entire world.

The heavy marketing for this first-season original means that Netflix really believes in “Altered Carbon.” And it probably will be a hit. It looks cool, it’s well cast, the sets are stunning, and the story is easy to follow even for casual viewers, especially considering it’s a sci-fi series.

Unfortunately, “Altered Carbon” suffers from issues that make it rather unremarkable compared to other Netflix originals, other television shows with massive fictional worlds, and other sci-fi. It’s not a waste of time, but you will probably be disappointed, especially if you find the premise intriguing.

Excessive violence toward women

The 10-episode series is a very direct adaptation of the novel by showrunner Laeta Kalogridis. Though Kalogridis made some alterations from the book – including a bigger role for a female character. But a more prominent role for a woman doesn’t give the show the feminist update that might suggest.

For a show that’s trying to be subtle – to balance its outlandish atmosphere and premise – “Altered Carbon” is rather ham-fisted, from clunky exposition and cliche dialogue to violence, particularly against women. There are dozens of mutilated bodies in “Altered Carbon,” and the majority of them are young women.

Altered carbonNetflixWill Yun Lee, the best part of the series, plays Kovacs in his original body. Dichen Lachman plays Reileen Kawahara.

Shows like “Game of Thrones” depict brutal violence, too. And against young women. But “Game of Thrones” eventually realised that it had already established the brutal world, and began to trust that viewers “got it.” The show didn’t need to keep reminding us. And that made the moments of violence that were still there more powerful, and helped them serve the story.

In establishing the world of “Altered Carbon,” the violence didn’t have to be toward young, attractive women – over and over again. But it is, and feels gratuitous. At first, the excessive violence toward the human form reinforces the fact that death isn’t final. But to drive this point home to the audience, the show could use some variety in victims. “Altered Carbon” also shows this casual violence so much that it feels like the series doesn’t trust its audience, further taking away from the mystery the show is trying to unfold.

Too many distractions, and too much inspiration

The depictions of violence in “Altered Carbon” take away from the mystery that’s unfolding, which is the best part of the show. Unlike 2017’s “Blade Runner 2049,” which allowed its mystery to unfold inside its world, “Altered Carbon” lets its world swallow the narrative.

Altered CarbonNetflixThe world in ‘Altered Carbon,’ in a futuristic San Francisco, looks a lot like ‘Blade Runner’

“Blade Runner” is also one of the crutches that brings down “Altered Carbon.” From the set and the costumes to the cinematography and a dark, rainy California setting, it’s way more than reminiscent of “Blade Runner.” Scenes that aren’t as dark, that take place in facilities and other kinds of buildings also feel a little too familiar, like “Westworld” and “The Hunger Games.” Inspiration is understandable, and inevitable. Art inspires art, but “Altered Carbon” takes more than it reinvents.

“Altered Carbon” is available now on Netflix, and you can watch the trailer below:

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.