We don't normally feature movie reviews here at Co-Optimus, but when one of the top co-op franchises gets its own movie, we'll make an exception. Halo Legends was recently released on DVD, Blu-ray, and for download, after making a few limited appearances on Halo Waypoint. Like The Animatrix and Batman: Gotham Knight, Halo Legends is a series of short anime stories, each courtesy of a different team of creators. In true co-op fashion, I'll give you my thoughts on each story, followed by that of my eight year old son Connor, who only had to hide his eyes and cover his ears a few times while watching. Each story will receive a rating, from Bronze Billy (Merely Average) to Gold Billy (Totally Awesome).
Origins is a two part story. It begins sometime after the events of Halo 3, featuring Cortana, adrift in space with Master Chief, as the narrator. She muses on her knowledge of the Forerunners and the role they play in the Halo universe. It's an epic tale, going back thousands of years to the height of Forerunner civilization. Invaded by the Flood parasites, the Forerunners fought back bravely, but realized they would inevitably lose. To prevent the Flood from spreading across the galaxy, the Forerunners construct the Halo weapons, which destroy the Flood's food source: all sentient life.
I understand why this story was the first one presented, but it's not nearly as strong as later entries. The setup for the narrative is somewhat forced, and while there is some action, it's all a bit dry and tedious. Without human (or even likeable alien) characters to empathize with, Origins isn't very compelling.
Connor's take: "Needs a little more fighting and Master Chief."
This tale takes place as the race that would later be known as Elites first joins the Covenant. An Arbiter named Fal feels alienated by the Prophets' religion, and will not change from the old ways. He and his mate enjoy the simple life they have always had. Accused of heresy, Fal is branded as a traitor, and trap is laid for him that draws him across many battlefields for a final confrontation with a former ally.
The Duel is by far the best of the tales included in Halo Legends. It stands apart for many reasons, the most obvious of which is the art style. It was rendered with a filter that creates a watercolor look, as if each frame were hand painted. The effect is absolutely stunning. The storytelling uses flashbacks, and feels like an old Samurai film in many ways. Fal is ferocious alien and a vicious fighter, yet I felt a strong empathy for him. That's not easy to do in a ten minute short film, and speaks volumes about the quality of The Duel.
Connor's take: "Very swordy! Lots of adventure and cool looking pictures."
Homecoming asks a question that I'd never seen before in Halo media: what is it like to grow up as a Spartan? A young group of Spartan IIs grows weary of their training, homesick for their formerly normal lives. They mount an escape, and eventually make their way home, but things are not quite what is expected when they return. To say more would be to spoil the tale, which is touching and perhaps even depressing, showing a side to the Halo story that is largely unrepresented.
I have mixed feeling about this story. On one hand, it has a deep meaning and is very thought-provoking. It is very well animated and has some good action scenes, which serve to drive home the human cost of the war against the Covenant. On the other hand, it relies on the same exact plot twist as The Babysitter, which we'd watched on Waypoint before. Despite this, and the downbeat tone, it's still very good.
Connor's take: "This was surprising, but still good."
Odd One Out
And now, for something completely different! Spartan 1337 (lolz) is the Odd One Out, who falls off a Pelican and lands in some big trouble. He gets eaten by a dinosaur, meets some strange looking kids, and delivers some hilarious one-liners in Bruce Campbell style. A Prophet sends a Brute to fight 1337, and he and the kids (who know some Dragonball Z style moves) destroy several mountains in the process of fighting it. Oh, and there's an old, crash-landed UNSC spaceship with an AI aboard who eventually saves the day at the end, right before the zany Spartan gets abducted by a Pteranodon. No joke!
This short was at the opposite end of the spectrum from the other, more serious tales on the disc. It is over the top, played for humor, and surprisingly, it really works. The fights are just so over the top ridiculous that it's fun to watch. My son was cackling the entire time, and has watched it multiple times already. Some might be turned off by the slapstick elements, but I found it to be a nice change of pace.
Connor's take: "Funny! This is one of the best. I like Spartan 1337."
If Odd One Out is "Haloball Z", Prototype could best be described as "Halo Gundam Wars". Hades Squad, a demolition team, is given orders to destroy a UNSC installation hosting a secret prototype of a fighting suit before it falls into Covenant hands. The leader, a marine known as Ghost due to his lack of human emotion when losing his entire team in a previous battle, defies orders and uses the suit to save the rest of Hades squad. The suit is a bit of a cross between a Spartan suit and a Robotech mech, armed with all manner of weapons.
The fight scenes here are the best on the entire disc, in my opinion, but keep in mind, I like giant robots more than most. Couple the intense action with a touch of sympathetic backstory and a dose of redemption, and you've got an excellent anime short on your hands. Prototype gets a big thumbs up.
Connor's take: "The big cannons and explosions are awesome."
As The Babysitter begins, we meet a group of ODSTs, one of whom is Dutch from Halo 3: ODST. They've been selected for a top-secret, highly dangerous mission: to assassinate a Prophet. The squad's sniper, O'Brien, is angry, because a Spartan II will be joining the group as the primary shooter, and he is given backup duty. The rivalry between O'Brien and the enigmatic Spartan provides some excellent character development as the UNSC troops proceed to their target.
The Babysitter has a nice mix of plot, interesting protagonists, and conflict. Animation is crisp, and the action scenes on the planet's surface are especially excellent. My only complaint with this story is the big plot twist at the end. I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it, but I will say that it was a tad predictable. Still, a solid story and definitely worth watching.
Connor's take: "It was not bad."
Continuing the trend, here we have "Master Chief Meets Star Wars". A Covenant fleet is holding an extremely important piece of cargo, dubbed The Package. Master Chief and a handful of Spartans are sent to retrieve it. They fly through space using Booster Frames, fighting off several Covenant ships on the way. Once onboard the flagship, the Spartans engage enemy troops with handheld weaponry. Eventually, Master Chief retrieves the package, engages an Elite in a Plasma Sword duel, and exits via escape pod, just in the nick of time.
This tale is longer than the others, and is the only one that is CG rendered. It looks great, and the action scenes are intense and plentiful. The only thing taking away from the experience are the obvious Star Wars ripoffs; you've got split-wing spacecraft, exploding enemy base ships, an evil Elite playing the role of Grand Moff Tarkin, and a laser sword duel on a round platform. In the end, though, I like Star Wars and I like Halo, so I stopped rolling my eyes and just enjoyed the ride.
Connor's Take: "Best one ever! It has Master Chief and it's in 3D."
As far as bonus features, there are your typical trailers, commentaries, and a mostly fogettable "Look How Awesome Halo Is" documentary. Exclusive to the Blu-ray (and worthwhile) is "Halo: The Story So Far" which relates the at-times complicated plot of Halo all the way to the end of Halo 3. This was especially beneficial to us, as we have not played the first two Halo games yet. (Blasphemy, I know, but I am late to the whole Xbox party.)
Halo Legends is certainly worth watching. I would wholeheartedly recommend individually downloading The Duel, The Package, and Prototype for the casual Halo fan, or even general anime aficionados. If you are a more serious fan of the series, and want a bit more of the story behind the games, the entire Halo Legends compilation is a worthwhile purchase.