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Fallout (Prime Series) Review: Surprisingly Good

Ella Purnell turns around standing underneath an arc in Prime Video series Fallout

Based on the video game franchise, Prime Video series Fallout features amazing costumes, sets, and sharp performances from Ella Purnell and Walton Goggins.

With The Last of Us being such a success for HBO, it is not surprising to see another series adaptation of a popular video game so soon. This time, we have Amazon teaming up with Bethesda Game Studios and Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan (of Westworld) to bring the Fallout games to life. Interestingly, this Prime Video series would not be a straightforward adaptation of any of the games. Todd Howard, Director and executive producer at Bethesda, confirmed in an interview that the narrative would to be set within the same continuity as the franchise, but tell an original story rather than adapt a previous game. That is what caught my attention, because I believed that without the limitations that come with adapting a game storyline, there was immense potential for what Joy and Nolan could do with this world as creators.

Of course, these games would not be the easiest thing to adapt regardless of the story. We are talking about a post-apocalyptic world riddled with satire that also takes inspiration from science fiction and westerns. All these elements play a key part in making Fallout what it is, and this series is aware of that. Had any of them been mishandled, both fans and general audiences would have been left bewildered by what they were watching. What we have instead is a terrific series with captivating performances, costumes and sets that will leave you in awe, and a narrative that might be bumpy, but is up to par.

Fallout tells an original story set in the world of the video games developed by Bethesda Game Studios. It primarily focuses on Lucy MacLean (Ella Purnell, Yellowjackets), a young woman who has lived her entire life within the confines of the underground Vault 33 following an apocalyptic nuclear event, and who is forced to journey to the unpredictable, hazardous wasteland of what used to be Los Angeles.

The narrative takes a little while to truly get going because it sets up three separate lead characters with their own arcs. Lucy is the primary protagonist, and we see much of the series through her eyes, but there is also Maximus (Aaron Moten, Emancipation), a squire of the Brotherhood of Steel military organization, and The Ghoul/Cooper Howard (Walton Goggins, The Hateful Eight), a mutant gunslinger/bounty hunter that has been alive since before the apocalypse. Once all three have been established, the series moves well, but Fallout takes a couple of episodes to find its footing. Lucy and The Ghoul have by far the most fascinating arcs to watch in what turns into a sprawling mystery that is hard to uncover even if you have played the games.

Walton Goggins wears a hat in the desert as The Ghoul in Prime Video series Fallout
Walton Goggins (The Ghoul) in Prime Video series Fallout (© Amazon Content Services LLC)

Throughout Fallout, the writers do an excellent job of emphasizing the satirical take on American culture and politics that the games are known for. That 1950s and 1960s aesthetic is still here (which of course includes the music), serving as a stark contrast to the vast, bleak wasteland. Much like with the adaptation of The Last of Us, certain things have been added to make the series more relevant to the times, but oddly enough, as you will see, few changes were needed to do that.

Maximus, by no fault of Aaron Moten’s performance, at times feels out of place compared to Lucy and The Ghoul in this mystery. In fact, I would go as far to say that he does more in support of Lucy rather than furthering his own journey. He is a bit like John Boyega’s Finn in the Star Wars sequel trilogy: they set the stage for him to do cool things, but he does not have the time to earn a well-rounded arc because he spends most of his time supporting others rather than being developed. That is my biggest criticism for this series in the story department and to be honest with you, it is going to be hard to fix even if this series is renewed.

Then you have Lucy, who not only grows as a character, but viewers are taken on a fantastic ride during the season with her. She is someone that I honestly would want to play as in an actual video game. Lucy is an idealistic, sheltered character with no idea what awaits her when she leaves the vault, but she is also unafraid to leave. Ella Purnell portrays that so well and helps audiences easily embrace Lucy.

If Yellowjackets did not already establish Purnell as an actor to watch, then Fallout will certainly cement that. She is so memorable here, proving that she can be funny, ditzy, vicious, and tear jerking. Her work turns Lucy into the best part of the entire show and a character that you will not want to be away from.

The biggest surprise of Fallout for me was Walton Goggins as The Ghoul/Cooper Howard; this character and his arc require so much of the actor, and he passes with excellence every single time. Goggins is still able to give The Ghoul so much emotion and charm beneath all that makeup which is awe inspiring. He must do so much with his eyes, mouth, and tone of voice to properly convey what this character is feeling. That southern accent that Goggins has additionally makes The Ghoul equal parts enticing and frightening. One must also not forget that Goggins portrays Howard at distinct stages of his life throughout the season, putting even more on his plate.

The Ghoul/Cooper Howard is written well, just like Lucy. His arc has a definitive beginning, middle, and end, and each portion is satisfying. When you stick Goggins and Purnell’s characters opposite each other, the idealistic hero, and the grizzled survivor, you end up with magic. They play off each other better than one would expect and give you some of the best moments of Fallout.

Other standouts of Fallout include Sarita Choudhury (of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1) as Moldaver, who I will not dare say much about here, and Annabel O’Hagan as Steph, a pregnant resident of Vault 33. Both serve to make this world feel more alive through their characters and performances. O’Hagan not only served as a welcome source of comic relief at times but was more convincing in her dramatic moments than some of the other characters in Vault 33. I would not mind seeing more of Steph should this series continue.

With Purnell and Goggins leading the charge, the narrative of Fallout Season 1 is quite the addition to this universe that forges its own identity. While it remains to be seen how much this series will impact the games, I do not think it has to overtly tie in. Telling these original stories in the same world is already sweet to watch.

The Brotherhood of Steel in Prime Video series Fallout
The Brotherhood of Steel in Prime Video series Fallout (JoJo Whilden/Prime Video, © Amazon Content Services LLC)

Fallout passes with near flying colors in terms of bringing the games to life. These sets are magnificent, and fans will immediately be able to recognize locations and assorted items of importance. Lucy’s Vault jumpsuit and her Pip-Boy (a fictional wearable computer in this universe) look straight out of 2015’s Fallout 4 rather than like glorified cosplay. The Vault Armor looks good in motion as well. If there is one complaint that I do have, it is that the CGI creatures of the wasteland could look better. The Radroachs (mutated cockroaches) are one example, when they are killed in Fallout, things look a little too video game-y and they stand out in a bad way against our human characters.

These games are also known for their action and I am pleased to report that Fallout handles that well. If you have not had the pleasure of playing them, one of the interesting things you can do is select a part of the body to shoot. Once selected, that part is shot off in slow motion in brutal fashion. While the selection screen is no more, the slow-motion gunshots, epic kills, and blood splatters are most definitely here. The melee combat is also riddled with tension, which also fits the games.

Fallout may not claim the title of best video game adaptation ever made, but it turns out to be much better than anyone was expecting. Ella Purnell and Walton Goggins give top-of-the-line performances that complement a narrative filled with elements that are faithful to the source material. The series adds to the world of the games while successfully standing on its own and making this trip to the wasteland worth it for audiences.

All episodes of Fallout will be available to watch on Prime Video from April 10, 2024.

Fallout: Trailer (Prime Video)
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