Netflix’s Black Knight review: A mix of Mad Max and Death Stranding

Two of the most defining bits of post-apocalyptic storytelling of the past decade are Mad Max: Fury Road And Death stranding; one envisions a future of vehicular mayhem across a desolate desert, while the other is a strange exploration of how important home delivery will be at the end of the world. Black knight, a new action series on Netflix, is what happens when you merge those two worlds. It doesn’t reach the heights of either, but it does provide its own distinct take on our climate change-fueled future – one that just happens to be a blast to watch.

Black knight takes place 40 years after a comet collided with Earth, poisoning the sky and turning the Korean Peninsula into a gloomy desert. The small number of survivors are divided along strict class lines. The wealthy live in a dome-shaped city with free-flowing air and plants, while the middle-class equivalent lives in endless rows of concrete houses. All the others, so-called refugees, are forced to build a life in the desert.

Keeping things together are the couriers who deliver much-needed food and oxygen to people’s homes. It is not only a necessary job but a dangerous one as the vans are under constant attack from robbers in the desert. This combination turns the couriers into contemporary folk heroes, risking their lives for the good of the rest of society. One, known simply as 5-8 (Kim Woo-bin), has achieved legendary status after single-handedly defeating entire gangs of robbers. It seems obvious not to mess with 5-8, but the raiders never seem to learn their lesson.

The story follows two main threads, which of course intersect towards the end. 5-8 is soon joined by Sa-Wol (Kang You-seok), a fugitive who idolizes the couriers and will do anything to become one and help those trapped in the desert. Meanwhile, the Korean government and a mega-corporation known as Chun-myung Group are teaming up to relocate citizens to a new, larger enclosure, but disagree on how to proceed. The biggest problem is Chun-myung’s heir, Ryu Seok (Song Seung-heon), who has contempt for the poor and hopes to make this new city his own vision of a perfect society.

Black knight is at its best when it focuses on action and personal interests. There are some great shootouts and an excellent, deadly race that feels like what would happen if George Miller played Fade. 5-8 is essentially indestructible, for reasons never really explained, other than he’s so strong and skilled, and it’s a lot of fun to watch a good guy beat impossible odds while also providing oxygen to the elderly. The show also has a great cast of characters. Sa-Wol is an idiot, but sincere and determined, and his friends from the desert have a beautiful, heartwarming relationship. 5-8 has a sort of stoic big-brother vibe, while Ryu Seok is an absolute prick, the kind of classic evil suit you like to root against. His contempt for virtually everyone is a sight to behold.

Unfortunately, it sometimes gets off track and tries to cram a few too many ideas into a short runtime. The conspiracy theory behind the grand move keeps the story moving at a strong momentum, but it is derailed by threads about mutants, kidnappings and vaccines that are either underdeveloped or just plain unnecessary. Fortunately, with only six episodes long, Black knight does not have enough time to get at far from the rails. By the time the ending rolls around, it’s back to thrilling heart-pounding action and standout character moments.

It’s not a show that’s likely to be remembered as fondly as its inspirations, and I wish it was both more focused and made a bigger deal about the machinations of climate change (rather than putting the blame all on a comet). But Black knight still manages to rise above yet another post-apocalypse story and become something that feels surprisingly fresh – and it should wait for Dead stranding 2 a little easier.

Black knight now streaming on Netflix.

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