fallout review

Fallout Series Review – One For The Vault

Front row seats to the end of the world.

It’s been one hell of a renaissance for video game-to-screen adaptations in the last handful of years. Most recently, The Last of Us snatched eight Emmy awards for its relatively faithful conversion. Modern Fallout titles are such big, sweeping role-playing games there’s no guarantee those quest lines, which are so reliant on player input and agency, would translate well to Hollywood and so, very wisely, they didn’t even try. 

This Amazon-produced Fallout is a wholly original, albeit thematically familiar, tale set within a recognisable west coast wasteland that introduces viewers to an entire cast of new additions to the franchise’s canon. It succeeds at cherry-picking just enough “if you know, you know” nods to satiate those after a bit of fandom bait, though it never feels egregious or out of place. I definitely believe those in charge of helming this series definitely care for, and showed reverence to, everything that has come before for Fallout—particularly the games under Bethesda’s umbrella. 

fallout review

Over the course of eight roughly hour-long episodes, Lucy scours a cruel, transformative wasteland overworld that, as someone who has lived her entire life in the safety of a Vault-Tec shelter, is alien to her and puts to test her mettle and morals. She’s searching for her father Hank, portrayed by the incomparable Kyle MacLachlan.

There is a minor disappointment in the fact that the series’ most veteran talent turn in smaller, undeniably effective, roles. The likes of MacLachlan and even Michael Emerson are seldom used, though their impact on the series is felt throughout the first series run. Emerson’s singular monologue in front of a campfire, which sets in motion the series’ key ideas of how the big, bad world can force change to good no matter how incorruptible, was shades of Benjamin Linus himself on Lost—an absolute favourite of mine. 

As an original story, I think it achieves everything it set out to do. It establishes the stakes, how it matters to all of the new, key players in this mean old world, and maintains a sense of mystery about how all of the pieces fit until the penny drops in a great finale. 

fallout review

The only actor of significant renown that shoulders an enormous portion of the franchise is Walton Goggins, whose complicated turn as Cooper Howard is nothing short of terrific. He’s an actor I’ve rated highly since first being exposed to him on Sons of Anarchy as Venus Van Dam and his role feels like such a Jekyll and Hyde dual-performance as ‘Coop’ the boujee, fifties Hollywood star and The Ghoul he becomes in the two-century fallout of the world’s end, whose atoms are remaining intact courtesy of an enormous cocktail of drugs. 

That isn’t to say the new kids on the block, relatively speaking, in Ella Purnell and Aaron Clifton Moten don’t carry their share of the series’ emotional gravitas. There are long, pensive scenes of emotional release and I think the pair do hold their own in a pretty big, expensive looking production. That is when the script isn’t calling for weird jokes about cousin-on-cousin incest and “exploding cocks” which I can’t even attempt to excuse. When the humour doesn’t sink to such juvenile depths, it can absolutely add an air of levity to what is a pretty desperate situation these characters constantly find themselves in. Matt Berry in particular, who pops up in a stroke of genius stunt-casting that to me, a fan of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, is a pitch-perfect source of comic relief. 

fallout review

With multiple leads to focus on, the show does hop around a bit from person-to-person. At first, it’s a little off-putting and did a bit to disrupt the pacing in the season opener, though once it settles into its groove and motivations become clear I feel as though Fallout handles its multiple planes of action well. 

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As a production, it really seems as though expense wasn’t an issue for Amazon, who have clearly backed Fallout heavily to succeed. Marketing alone tells a story, I feel as though I’m seeing Fallout far more in its build than I ever saw The Last of Us. Save for a few iffy, dodgily-keyed green screens and a mutated bear, or yao guai in wasteland speak, everything about Fallout is all-in, full steam ahead commitment to authenticity.

The costumes are all terrific, never feeling like a cheap cosplay in the way other shows with power armour can come across, while the sets are perhaps the highlight of the entire eight-episode run. The more places we’d visit, whether they were pulled from the video games like Super Duper Mart or not, the more I’d be awestruck by the world this team built out. By placing the focus on the Californian side of things, a seldom seen slice of “New Americana” in the games, I feel like there was a bit more freedom to craft new stories than somewhere like Boston or Washington D.C. would have allowed, being prolific Fallout hubs. 

fallout review

As someone who sank big hours into the modern Fallout games, a lot of this series felt very nostalgic to me. The way some of the fan service is handled can be a little cringy, though on the whole it’s brilliant. Whoever shot the scenes of Lucy fleeing from her vault to go after her dad deserves a pat on the back, because it recaptured the sense of blinding awe that accompanies those iconic “leaving the vault” beats. The violence and gore is comically graphic and over the top at points, which I think really works when you recall how V.A.T.S. would routinely pop heads and tear raiders limb from limb.

At first, I found the constant use of slow-motion to be a little excessive and bordered on Snyder levels of fetishisation, though the show’s licensed soundtrack is so note perfect I could watch a T-60 power suit clad Brotherhood knight club their way through the wasteland to Nat King Cole all day. There are a number of songs players of the games will instantly recognise, and all of those fond memories will come flooding back in an instant. Outside of the era-appropriate bops, Ramin Djawadi’s original score thrives most when it uses motifs penned by Inon Zur, the game’s composer, though can be rather forgettable outside of these moments.

fallout review

What impressed me the most with Fallout is how it manages to remain earnest in the original story it crafts for this big, pre-established universe, complete with characters that’ll grow on you and set pieces that riff on the franchise’s most iconic moments. Not only that, it’s a lot of fun. The humour might not always hit, but for it to cut through the solemn tone of the world’s end and deliver some of the most absurd, video game ass moments I’ve seen in a television series pays dividends. 

While it might not necessarily be made to directly adapt the wasteland stories we’ve heard before, the creators have delivered fan service to a level that is sure to please Fallout fans who are hungry for Bethesda to return from the stars and serve another trip to end-times America. 

Oh, and that season two tease that it all climaxes on is a sure bet to excite many.

With a surprisingly riveting original story to tell, Fallout is a rollicking ride through all-too familiar wastes. It might not prove to set the world on fire, though with enough fan service to shake a Ripper at, it’s assured to start a flame in the hearts of long-time fans.

Fallout premieres exclusively on Prime Video with all episodes dropping on Thursday, April 11th at 11AM AEST. Watch it here.