It’s entirely possible that Altered Carbon, the new sci-fi murder-mystery series from Netflix, will be amazing. But it sure is hard to tell from this trailer, which makes it seem like someone thought Blade Runner needed combining with the world of Vin Diesel’s xXx universe.
Much like the series’ first trailer, everything about the new show looks borrowed from something else (which is partially the result of its source material, the 2002 novel of the same name). First, there’s the conceit: People’s minds are recycled through an ongoing series of bodies, essentially enabling them to live forever. (Films all the way from Frankenstein to They Saved Hitler’s Brain to Self/less have played around with this.) In this case, Joel Kinnaman (The Killing, Suicide Squad) plays the role of the former soldier brought back centuries later to help solve the murder of the richest man of earth (James Purefoy). Guy waking up years later in a world he doesn’t know? Demolition Man and Idiocracy, to name a couple. Oh, and the rich essentially living more immortally than plebeians? Even the silly Justin Timberlake vehicle In Time addressed that. That’s to say nothing of the visual look of the show, which may as well be called “Le Runnersier style.” (Which is impressive, considering the Blade Runner sequel was already jam-packed with references and homages in itself.) Then there’s the tone, including the Nine Inch Nails song backing the whole thing. It feel like a B-movie from 20 years ago, in that the snippets of dialogue, chockablock with inanities of macho posturing (“I’m gonna need access that you don’t wanna give, and I’m gonna find answers that you may only think you want”), all serve to convey something backward-looking in both imagery and dialogue. It’s a retro pastiche engine welded to a neo-futuristic chassis, but it comes across like the Ford Edsel of ADHD-editing sci-fi action.
Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with putting a bunch of tropes and styles in a blender and churning them together—as Quentin Tarantino can attest, such work might just earn you an Oscar nomination. So we’re prepared to eat crow if Altered Carbon turns out to be inarguably cool. But for now, it’s going to have to do some work to overcome this overwrought trailer, which looks for all the world like something watched Blade Runner 2049 and thought, “Man, this needs more MMA fighting and explosions.” Fingers crossed this is just a misjudged trailer, and the show is great—we’ll know for sure when Altered Carbon hits Netflix on February 2.