A series unlike any other, Altered Carbon allows us to peer through the lens at a dystopian future where technological advances have created a chasm of class division, acting on ones baser impulses are the norm and the very essence of human mortality is a mere shadow of re-downloaded data. This bold adaptation of Richard K. Morgan’s novel of the same name unravels the question which every great sci-fi thriller attempts to answer: what does it mean to be human?
In this world, human existence is a matter of curated data. Every human’s memories, and what makes them unique, is downloaded into a disk called a ‘stack’. This stack is placed within the back of the neck, so if the body were to be damaged or destroyed the ‘stack’ can be placed into another ‘sleeve’; a vacant vessel for the ‘stack’ to occupy.
Death no longer holds its cold sting – the rich have capitalised on a lucrative market of purchasing ‘sleeves’ which they desire, the poor scramble and beg for the scraps which are tossed from the heavens and the moral fibre which connects all human beings has evaporated. It’s a disturbingly bold vision of what our world could become if certain choices were made.
If Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 reopened the ideology of just how human technology can become, then Altered Carbon pushes that to the brink. Its noir driven detective story is a tapestry of lust, violence, loyalty, love, compassion, family – all expertly woven through the grounded performances of its cast.
Joel Kinnaman is sublime as Takeshi Kovacs, a resistance fighter brought back 250 years after his last death to solve the murder of a prominent member of high society. Despite the allegations of Hollywood whitewashing, the House of Cards and Suicide Squad star gives a remarkable portrayal of a life within a life, within a life.
The more you engross yourself in this series, the more rewarding it becomes. Fantastically paced action sequences, coupled with intense interpersonal drama (not to mention some very racy exchanges), all lend their weights worth in entertainment gold.
The real riches however, are the ones found within the cinematography and dialogue. The utter disregard for human life by those in power – contrasted perfectly by the neon of the streets and the white light of the opulent – the disgusting climb of the social hierarchy, the enduring force of the human spirit, how to maintain ones soul against the insurmountable evidence to the contrary, or the biggest question of what is real and what is not are all wonderfully captured from a very human, very visceral perspective.
Altered Carbon has everything you could want from a modern sci-fi spectacle; it will have you question your beliefs about the very nature of our existence, whether the digital projection we display via social media is a true reflection of ourselves, a dominating lead wearing a pink unicorn backpack creating some wickedly action-packed chaos, and a thrilling murder mystery with multiple layers which will have you hooked to the very last second.
Review by Phil Logan.