"Halo: Combat Evolved" first arrived on the scene back in 2001 and those who found themselves at ground zero received a firsthand look at how it subsequently changed everything about first-person shooter video games moving forward. Master Chief/Spartan John-117's instantly recognizable helmet and armor design, the sheer depth and breadth of fully realized world-building and lore, and -- of course -- the immersive gameplay itself all combined with that incredibly memorable musical theme and added up to one of the most successful, beloved video game franchises that the world has ever seen. Almost since the moment of its original release, fans have clamored for a live-action adaptation, and there have been numerous roadblocks on that path. All those efforts have finally led to the new Paramount+ "Halo" series, which will attempt to give the existential Human-Covenant war its proper due on the small screen. The newest trailer gave us our best look yet at what it has to offer, which ultimately feels like a proper blend of old and new that just might deliver on the promise of "crack[ing] the veneer" of the helmeted super-soldier.
Read on for our breakdown into everything this new "Halo" trailer reveals.
"Humanity's Best Weapon"
We open on a breathtakingly alien landscape, littered with distant structures and a city on top of a striking hilltop. This isn't "Star Wars" or "Dune," but an unknown location set in the distant future of the "Halo" universe. The original game takes place in the year 2552, long after humanity has taken to the stars and expanded its reach to multiple planets throughout the galaxy. This outward growth into the reaches of space puts humanity on a collision course with the terrifying conglomerate of alien races known as the Covenant in the first place, which leads to the onset of a war for our very survival. Much of the action we see in this trailer appears to take place on this same dusty world in the Outer Colonies, putting their battle front-and-center as unknown forces (likely extraterrestrial) threaten the human settlement.
Right away, the action looks reminiscent of the "Halo" short films that parent company Bungie commissioned several years ago, almost as a proof-of-concept test that this material could translate smoothly into live action. It soon becomes clear that the small band of defenders are overmatched against the enemies at their doorstep (one even appears to wield a weirdly contemporary-looking AK-47!), who blow through their defenses with ease and terrify the helpless people within the city walls. It's here that we're introduced to Yerin Ha as Kwan Ha, who seems to have had her name slightly changed from the original announcement of "Quan Ah" and was previously described as "a shrewd, audacious 16-year-old from the Outer Colonies who meets Master Chief at a fateful time for them both."
"You. Humanity's best weapon. Master Chief, huh?" As far as first meetings with legendary war heroes go, we can probably consider Kwan Ha to be somewhat less-than-impressed by the hulking, armored figure in front of her. Despite his top-secret origins (more on that later), tales of his feats and exploits during battle quickly spread throughout humanity's ranks -- in the various "Halo" novels, at least, though that could easily remain true here. The following scene, taking place in some sort of metallic indoor location, seems to indicate either a victory or a retreat from the action that opens the trailer. Either way, Kwan Ha apparently finds herself tagging along with Master Chief and thrust into a much larger fight than either character could've ever imagined.
Scars Of War
The prominence of Master Chief's origins in this "Halo" trailer certainly points to a heavy emphasis on the shady history behind the creation of these advanced soldiers in the first place. The "Halo" novels, particularly "The Fall of Reach," detail the shocking brutality involved in selecting a specific pool of candidates for the UNSC's Spartan program. Kidnapping children off the streets, replacing them with faulty clone replacements (who inevitably died a short time later of "natural" causes), and "upgrading" them on a bioengineering level over the years, the cold and calculating Dr. Catherine Halsey serves as the mastermind behind the desperate military operation. Though originally intended to deal with threats stemming from a rebel faction of humans, the Spartans end up becoming the perfect weapon against the eventual Covenant threat. All of that background information comes from a separate timeline altogether, mind you, but it seems clear that the creative team behind this new series will explore this in some form, at least.
We switch to a voiceover narration by Natascha McElhone, who portrays the aforementioned Dr. Halsey in this series, providing a brief overview of the Spartan program. The footage is interspersed with battleground scenes and glimpses of the other main Spartans, played by Bokeem Woodbine, Natasha Culzac, Bentley Kalu, and Kate Kennedy. These appear to be wholly original characters who will comprise Master Chief's squad of teammates, which juxtaposes dramatically against his lone wolf status in the main series of video games. Given the threats they'll soon find themselves up against, well, more Spartans are definitely better than just one!
Speaking of which, say hello to our first up close and personal look at the villainous Elites (also known as "Sangheili," if you'll allow me to push up my nerd glasses for a moment). The Covenant forces boast a wide array of formidable foes with highly specialized skills on the battlefield, from cowardly and weirdly adorable Grunts (who we, sadly, don't get a good look at in this trailer) to the shield-wielding Jackals (who we do get to see later on, however briefly) to the Elites. Their creepy four-jawed design from the games is rendered faithfully here, as one particularly vicious one thrusts his distinctive energy sword through a wall, to the dismay of a human narrowly avoiding the blade on the other side.
Meet Master Chief
Cue Russell Crowe demanding whether the bloodthirsty crowd is entertained or not. In this case, Master Chief's version of a gladiatorial fight takes the form of fending off two Elites with little more than his trusty assault rifle and his own enhanced fighting abilities. Personal shields! Energy weapons! Some genuinely thrilling choreography! Even some gnarly alien blood splatter! This moment truly feels like the "Halo" games brought to life in all their glory, especially with the previous shot appearing to take place from within the Chief's helmet and giving us a familiar first-person look at the rapidly advancing Elite. Of course, it's all fun and games until your shield runs out and you're at the mercy of dodging bullets and sword attacks until they can recharge again. If this series can accurately translate the frantic gunfighting and combat techniques from the game into live action, then this may easily win the crown of the best video game adaptation yet.
Oh, right. A plot. There has to be an actual plot in this series. About halfway through the trailer, we finally get an indication of what the overarching storyline may be. As Master Chief explains, a Covenant excavation uncovers some sort of object that, when he touches it, has an unsettling effect upon him. A later moment in the footage shows UNSC scientists going over the recovered artifact and making sense of the alien glyphs, which apparently translates to "Sacred ring. Halo." Though the original game begins with Master Chief's starship stumbling onto the mysterious Halo installation (seemingly) by total chance, this series appears to re-contextualize the Halo array into the MacGuffin of the story, possibly leading to a race against the Covenant to find the Halo first.
"What does one do with a superhuman you're not sure you can trust?"
We see Dr. Halsey getting chewed out by her superiors, suggesting that the "lethal, upgradeable, and most importantly, controllable" Spartans are somewhat lacking in that last quality. The answer, as suggested by this trailer, appears to be Cortana and the return of Jen Taylor, who voiced the artificially intelligent sidekick throughout the video game series. I'm sure hardcore fans are throwing fits about the apparent sacrilege of a non-blue Cortana, but I'm actually perfectly okay with the change. Why not actually see Jen Taylor for a change, people!
A Phil Collins Cover? Really?
Hey, you know what actually feels like sacrilege? Possessing one of the most celebrated and well-known musical cues -- not just in the video game realm, but in pop culture in general -- and not using it. Instead, a slowed-down and moody cover of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" was apparently deemed much more worthy of inclusion for some inexplicable reason. On one hand, you have the propulsive, tone-setting, and genuine bop of guitar riffs and epic choir orchestras ... and on the other, you have the continuation of a trailer trend that has been roundly mocked on social media for years, at this point. But then again, this is why I'm sitting here merely writing about this sort of stuff, instead of actually writing them. Oh, and here's a blink-and-miss-it moment showing the shielded Jackal in all its quilled glory. Sorry, I love Phil Collins as much as the next guy, but I'm too upset about the appalling musical choice here to break this down any further.
Okay, here's a fun one. This brief shot displays some eye-catching alien architecture in a massive room, but the real attention-grabber has to be the three figures at the very bottom of the image. Their ornate chairs and headpieces would seem to point to only one possibility -- the "San'Shyuum," or the race of Prophets, who make up the top and most revered level of the Covenant hierarchy. Though shown to be pulling the strings behind the alien superpower alliance throughout the games, the novels and various other "expanded universe" material go even deeper into their fanatic religious beliefs, the power they hold over the rest of the empire, and even a disturbing conspiracy of sorts regarding their knowledge of the Halo rings. You can see a lone figure standing before them in the trailer (at the 1 minute 43 second mark), which could very well be the famous Arbiter, the Elite who first appeared in "Halo 2" and went on to become an unexpected ally to Master Chief (and a playable character himself).
The main takeaway you should get from this section is that the Covenant alien designs are some of the coolest in all of video games, basically.
Let's Get Weird
So remember when I started out this article talking about how this feels like a "blend of old and new"? Well, this part's as new as it gets. A flurry of shots reveals Irish actor Charlie Murphy ("Peaky Blinders") in what's been described as a new role specifically created for the show. Deadline initially reported that she will play a character named Makee, "an orphaned human who was raised by the alien Covenant and shares their contempt for humanity." Her one line of dialogue telling humanity to "surrender to the Covenant" puts this in chilling context, and the very next shot is enough to throw any fan for a loop. Makee casually strides into a chamber where other humans are being attacked by some sort of tentacled aliens who appear to be ignoring her completely.
I initially thought we were seeing the dreaded Flood in action -- just ask anyone who slogged their way through those terrifying parasitic levels in the original "Halo" and the games that followed, especially "Halo 3," and they can tell you about the lingering PTSD they suffer from those unstoppable aliens who devour both human and Covenant alike. Reader, I'm as intrigued about this development as you are.
The footage builds to a crescendo of hero shots, gif-ready action sequences, and nifty one-liners that feature everything any "Halo" fan could possibly ask for -- Pelican dropships, impossibly cool-looking gun flips, a team-up sequence between Master Chief (who's likely harboring a fully integrated Cortana in his armored suit by then) and his Spartan squad mates, and the final line of the trailer as we zoom in on the blood-soaked gore of Master Chief's helmet. "Find the Halo ... win the war." Seems simple enough, but something tells us this is only the beginning. Notably absent in this trailer are any actual footage of Halo rings (in this past week's weirdest circumstantial crossover, you can see a ringworld in the latest episode of "The Book of Boba Fett"), leaving us with no real indication of how much of an overlap there'll be between this series and "Combat Evolved."
For a first extended look at the action, however, this "Halo" trailer mostly checks all the major boxes. I'm cautiously optimistic to see how this show carves out its own identity. We'll find out when it comes to Paramount+ on March 24, 2022.
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