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‘Into the Badlands’ captures ‘Walking Dead’-style gore without the zombies

AMC abandoned its original moniker, American Movie Classics, long before it started churning out some of TV’s finest dramas.

At this point, though, those letters might as well stand for Another Mutilated Corpse.

Less than a minute into the channel’s futuristic martial arts drama “Into the Badlands” (10 p.m. Sunday), the heroic Sunny (Daniel Wu) stumbles across a body with a hatchet in its forehead, followed by a row of bloody, fly-covered cadavers.

If nothing else, it’s a way for AMC to pander to “The Walking Dead” demographic without having to air another spinoff, a la “Fear the Walking Dead,” or more unscripted tie-ins, such as “Talking Dead” or the upcoming motorcycle series, “Ride with Norman Reedus.”

Set centuries from now in what remains of the American Midwest, “Into the Badlands” takes place in the feudal society that evolved after a series of wars and disasters claimed the lives of billions. Seven barons “forged order out of chaos” but enslaved the people who most needed their protection. In doing so, the barons banished guns and trained armies of highly skilled assassins known as Clippers who are willing to kill and die for their masters. In exchange for their service, which means few Clippers ever live to be 30, they’re given the best food, weapons and women with one odd caveat: They can never have families.

Enter Sunny, the most-feared Clipper in the Badlands. Sworn to protect Baron Quinn (Marton Csokas), Sunny saves M.K. (Aramis Knight), a mysterious teenager with a dark, secret power, from a group of mercenary nomads. When Sunny learns he’s going to be a father with Veil (Madeleine Mantock), his doctor girlfriend who wants to keep their forbidden baby, Sunny and M.K. begin looking for a way out from under Quinn and out of the Badlands for good.

That’s an awful lot of world building, but, honestly, you don’t have to pay attention to much — or any — of it. “Into the Badlands” mostly is just about the violence.

In a world without guns, battles are fought with swords, staffs, machetes, hatchets, bolas, fists and feet. And Sunny isn’t shy about bending appendages in ways nature never intended while leaving bodies crumpled and broken.

By the time a rival Baron known as The Widow (Emily Beecham) arrives in a flurry of knives and fetish boots, “Into the Badlands” has become an orgy of wicked cool, stylized violence.

There are still some soapy elements. Baron Quinn is taking a younger second wife, much to the chagrin of his first (Orla Brady). And his son, Ryder (Oliver Stark), is too power hungry for his own good.

There’s also a confusing mix of sleek motorcycles, pristine old-timey cars and horses.

And the acting is nearly as brutal as the fight scenes.

But when they’re really clicking, presented in extended takes to better showcase the action, those fight scenes alone are worth your time.

None of them, at least during the first two episodes, is as epic as that one-take brawl on Netflix’s “Daredevil.” But at least “Into the Badlands” aspires to be something unique instead of another zombie series.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @life_onthecouch

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