Reviewers praise Netflix's Altered Carbon's spectacular visuals but question its violence
Netflix’s new sci-fi show Altered Carbon has a lot of muscle behind it. Emmy-winning Game of Thrones favorite Miguel Sapochnik directed episodes, Tony-winning Hamilton alum Renée Elise Goldsberry has a role, and the series looks to be the biggest, most lavish of all Netflix’s original creations. Initial reviews have praised the show’s ambition and spectacular visual style, but others have also criticized the show’s formulaic “whodunit” plot and its deployment of overwhelming violence against female characters.
Altered Carbon hits Netflix on Feb. 2. Check out snippets from the first round of reviews below.
Darren Franich (EW):
“Creator Laeta Kalogridis worked on Avatar, so she has a history with epic science fiction, and Terminator: Genisys, so there are worse titles than Altered Carbon. I admire her grand guignol instincts, suspect it’s purposeful that every viewer can find one thing to be outraged about. This show tackles race, gender, and class with all the subtlety of a blowtorch. (Also: There is a blowtorch.)”
Chris Evangelista (/Film)
“Adapted from the novel by Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon, created by Alita: Battle Angel co-screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis, is a visual feast, with nearly every inch of every frame seemingly tailor-made to show up as part of the One Perfect Shot Twitter account. Like another visually sumptuous Netflix series, The Crown, so much effort has been poured into creating the world of this show – a distinct, neon-drenched, cyberpunk-infused world where nearly every dollar of the budget is up on the screen. Alas, everyone was so obsessed with getting the look of this show right that they forgot to focus on the story.”
“Characters can beat, bludgeon and behead each other with very little consequence. Eventually, the show starts to make a statement about this – certain characters start talking about how they need to rebel against immortality and accept death, as this method of eternal life has only made the wealthy more wealthy and the powerful more powerful. But for the most of Altered Carbon’s runtime, the show treats life itself indifferently.”
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw (The Daily Dot):
“Barely an episode goes by without a naked woman being murdered, injured, or displayed as decoration. By the time they fished someone’s corpse out of the ocean boobs-first, I found myself laughing out loud in disbelief. This may be the most expensive sci-fi series ever made by a woman showrunner, yet it’s poisoned by its toxic treatment of female bodies.
In this world of quasi-immortality, people can be temporarily killed for business or pleasure. This often translates to sex workers being slaughtered and manhandled like objects. We’re meant to feel bad about their exploitation, but the show itself is exploiting them. It uses the dystopian setting as an excuse for sexualized violence, with Strong Female Characters like Kovacs’ ally Detective Ortega (Martha Higareda) as a smokescreen. The volume of dead, naked women is a massive distraction from the show’s stronger points, like the well-choreographed fight scenes and Takeshi Kovacs’ backstory.”
Kimberly Roots (TV Line):
“Another point of contention is the mixed signals some episodes send regarding truly terrible subject matter. Without spoiling too much, a significant chunk of the story’s action unfolds in or around brothels. Related: Yes, the prurient interests of horrifyingly depraved men are painted in the appropriate light, but isn’t it convenient that doing so offers numerous opportunities to depict nude women in highly violent scenarios? Similarly, if we already know a character is a zealot assassin capable of unspeakable cruelty, do we really need to see him murder an unsuspecting family, one by one, in their home?
“Fortunately, the drama rights itself by the end of the season, returning to its whodunit? foundation in time to reward those who’ve been around for all 10 eps. But man, the boobs, blood, and backstory digression it takes to get there!”
Jacob Knight (Birth. Movies. Death):
“I was utterly hooked; mostly due to the extremely unified cinematic texture Laeta Kalogridis and her crew have crafted throughout the first season’s 10 installments. Altered Carbonlooks big and expensive; a widescreen futuristic tableau that’s brimming from corner-to-corner of your television with an amount of detail you wish you could witness on the big screen. Every environment has been fully sketched by production designer Carey Meyer, and then fleshed out by an expert team of SFX artists. When we’re down on the ground with Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), every prop and piece of mechanical body modification feels tangible and interacted with, the oversized weapons and protective body armor bulky and cumbersome, clashing with the otherwise chic plasticity of this world. Plus, it’s all wet and icky; doused in rainwater or other fluids — most manufactured — bringing an organic moistness that draws us in, and renders it all immersive.”
David Griffin (IGN):
“What’s interesting about Altered Carbon is that the ‘who-done-it’ narrative isn’t even the best part. The cyberpunk world surrounding the murder mystery is compelling. It’s like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell had a weird, beautiful baby.”
Andrew Liptak (The Verge):
“Unfortunately, all the disparate elements don’t quite gel, from Kovacs’ relationship with his sister to the unveiling of the truth behind Bancroft’s mysterious death. In the rush to cram in so many details and characters, the show skimps on the thing that would hold all of these people together as they jump from body to body: their relationships. While there are some glimpses of Kovacs’ past throughout the season, it only gets a proper treatment in a single, pivotal episode, and it’s not quite enough to work in the emotional depth necessary to power the back half of the season. Still, it’s an engrossing ride.”