Altered Carbon Review – Spoiler Free
Altered Carbon is a Netflix original series which was recently added to the streaming platform. The show is based on a book of the same name by author Richard Morgan and is set in a futuristic world where one’s consciousness is digitised and stored. In the world of Altered Carbon a person’s consciousness once stored can be transferred into a new body or a clone of their old self once they die. In a way this allows someone to live virtually forever. But with what consequences?
The Altered Carbon TV series was created by Laeta Kalogridis who some may know as the writer of Terminator Genisys (2015), Shutter Island (2010) or Alexander (2004). The series stars Joel Kinnaman, James Purefoy, Martha Higareda, Chris Conner, Dichen Lachman, Ato Essandoh, Kristin Lehman and Trieu Tran.
As a fan of a variety of Netflix series’ of the past, I was pleased to hear that there would be a new original sci-fi series heading to the platform. I had no idea of or had ever heard of the Altered Carbon book before, but the show was marketed to be something similar to what we got from the Blade Runner film series, so it got me interested. But also a little curious as to why Netflix would want a Blade Runner like series? As much as I like that franchise and adored Blade Runner 2049, I know in my heart that these types of sci-fi films aren’t what the masses enjoy and you can see that with the 2049 performance at the box office so wondered what Netflix was trying to do with this series. But nevertheless we have Altered Carbon.
When first watching the series in full, I was left with quite a lot of questions when I finished as a few of the characters and their dealings escaped me completely and while I understood the basic meaning of the show and what it was getting at, I had so many questions about certain aspects of the show. So I had to watch it a second time. Which is why this review was a little delayed.
Altered Carbon is a little slow when it comes to the unravelling of its plot and its plot is not always totally clear. While most would recognise that the main story of Altered Carbon is the solving of the case surrounding the death and murder of Laurens Bancroft, the story is actually a lot deeper than the case itself. Bancroft hires Takeshi Kovacs to act as a sort of detective to solve it all. While I don’t want to go into too many spoilers, Kovacs who is the main character isn’t necessarily a straight forward investigator and has a rich character history that is explored throughout the show. In fact, unknown to many, but introduced early on, Kovacs is actually Asian, but is brought back in the body of a white man (Joel Kinnaman) by Bancroft. Although I do wish they explored this event a little further, in amongst everything else it sort of got drowned out.
Similar to much in the sci-fi genre, Altered Carbon is filled with a variety of strong themes and moments of great symbolism which viewers can pick up on. While I don’t want to go into a full analysis of the show, I would say that the main theme in this one is about humanity and an individual’s ability to live far beyond their years. As a person keeps living way beyond 100 years or so, what happens to their identity and who do they become? Does a person retain their moral values as their long life continues or does something sinister happen to their character? Does the long life remove the humanity and make them more of a monster? There are multiple characters in the show who bring up these types of questions and it’s an interesting thing to explore and an interesting concept for the show. What is being human when virtually you could live forever? What’s the value of mortality? I love watching shows or films which have some type deep meaning to them or that have a lot for you to discuss with someone after watching it and Altered Carbon certainly does deliver that.
In terms of the acting in the series, I felt that possibly this was the most mixed part of the show. There are some outstanding performances from people like James Purefoy, Martha Higareda and Dichen Lachman. But from the show’s main star Joel Kinnaman, I felt that I could never get into his performance as Kovacs or possibly it was just how the character was presented. Kovacs in the series and Kinnaman’s portrayal of him shows very little emotion, in fact barely any. Even in moments where things really should be bad, while he does get angry, he’s mainly the same in every scene. I’ve not read the book so I know nothing about Kovacs, maybe he’s not meant to be an emotional person at all, but gosh it was hard to relate to this character or even like him. I would almost believe it was meant to be like this, if it were not for flash back scenes from Asian Kovacs from the past who was played by Will Yun Lee who had a different, more emotional performance for the same character. Odd I thought and odd experience to watch this all unfold.
Being a sci-fi show, it does have it’s fair share of special effects and interesting things to see. I thought some of the shots of the futuristic city in which the character lived were quite beautiful to look at. Such bright and shiny lights, mixed in with total darkness. On the other side of things though, I didn’t really love the costumes all that much. Being a show in the future, there’s a big chance to create a distinct style. But everything seemed quite mixed and not cohesive. I also thought it strange that Kovacs wore a plain black suit and white shirt for half the series. Poor Joel Kinnaman looked like he had just walked off the set of House Of Cards and had no time to change (he was in that too by the way).
Overall Altered Carbon is an interesting science fiction television series. It has a few strong themes within it that you can discuss with friends in great detail while watching the show or once you’ve completed you first viewing. It has some re-watch value for those like myself who want to explore what was going on just a little more or to get to know some characters you might have missed or failed to understand in your first viewing. The acting is a little mixed with some great performances, but Joel Kinnaman’s Kovacs is for some reason very hard to relate to at all. The story and its main plot is a slow tale, but it’s great watching it unfold. There’s a lot of twists and turns along the way as well, which is nice and the sci-fi setting is a lot of fun too. While Altered Carbon isn’t a perfect sci-fi show, it’s not bad either and a decent watch. If you’ve got some spare time on Netflix, it’s worth taking a look at.