The Witcher ‘prequel ‘Blood Origin’ fails to cast a spell: TV review

The fantasy series has a way of growing limbs quickly. The aggressive expansion of a series like Netflix’s The Witcher is understandable, because after all, what’s the point of creating a vast narrative universe if you don’t already explore it? So it can be difficult to tell whether a spin-off fantasy series is a worthwhile journey that deepens appreciation for the original, or a routine effort that trades in the show’s reputation without capturing its essence. “The Witcher: Blood Origin” falls in between, but is closer to being a lackluster expansion of the brand. Not only is Henry Cavill’s four-parter missing, but it’s also missing a sense of larger purpose.

“Blood Origin” jumps back 1,200 years to the original series – even before 2021’s “Nightmare of the Wolf” animated movie – to explore some of the more exciting elements of the “Witcher” mythology. It promises to explore the creation of the first Witcher, an event caused by the conjunction of spheres, a collision of disparate worlds that forced humans, monsters, and wizards to coexist in an interconnected multiverse.

The first episode begins in the middle of a series of pitched battles, and the first line of dialogue is a fuse of F-bombs. Not many of the franchise’s characters can pull off the line, which looks as if it was drawn from an early screenplay by Diablo Cody. Fortunately, it comes from fan-favorite Jaskier (Joey Batey), whose spectral vision of Seanchai (Minnie Driver) makes up the bulk of the show’s structure. She appeared to Gasquier at a very inopportune moment in the middle of the bloodbath to share with him the Witcher’s origin story and her populous cast of characters.

First up is Elle (Sofia Brown), who defects from her Royal Guards position in favor of becoming a traveling musician. (Her tones are decent, though don’t find an inscription along the lines of “Throw a coin to your wizard”.) She meets Fjall (Laurence O’Fuarain), another royal protector who is out of a job after a major negligence. After an ill-fated first meeting, Elle and Fjal team up on a revenge mission with the goal of overthrowing Princess Merwen (Meryn Mack), a puppet queen installed after a violent coup.

Together, the two bring together a classic crew of seven dwarfs to help take down Merwen, each with their own motivations for joining the cause. The most intriguing of them all are Scian (Queen of the Royal Michelle Yeoh), a swordsmith who fights on behalf of her dwindling tribe and Mildov (Francesca Mills, excellent here) a savage killer whose thirst for revenge often resembles nihilism. The quest cuts through at a good enough pace, but there’s a huge gap in the show without Cavill’s Geralt of Rivia – or an equivalent value replacement – to anchor the ensemble.

What must be Blood Origins’ two greatest strengths, the cast and snack-size length, ultimately prove to be liabilities. With so many characters on duty, and so much time invested in Ellie and Vgal’s light-hearted and unconvincing romance, the most intriguing characters are crowded. Even factoring in the bits, the show is better off with ringers like Yeoh and Driver. But their existence quickly becomes frustrating once it becomes clear that they will not be given nearly enough to do.

In terms of length, the four-hour episodes look right for a prequel series served nude as a high-protein snack to keep fans going until season three of “The Witcher” drops next year — Cavill’s last season before being replaced by Liam Hemsworth. straight ahead. (“Blood Origin” drops on Christmas Day, and will literally take over the holiday period in which both seasons of “The Witcher” appeared.) But the four episodes are all that remain of the original six-episode order, a downsizing that producers attributed to the post-Epiphany. The production is about condensing the middle hours of the show. This seems logical enough in theory, but it’s hard not to conclude from the frequent dead-end exposition and general lack of focus that “Blood Origin” is 10 pounds of “Witcher” crammed into a five-pound saddle bag.

There’s a passing thrill in “Blood Origin,” like the brilliantly edited fight sequences and early heist sequence. Battles are easier to enjoy than ever thanks to the jump in visual effects quality, and the gradual improvement over “The Witcher” Season 2, which itself was a step up from Season 1. It doesn’t distract or break the immersion, which is more than can be said of the early Witcher episodes. But overall, “Blood Origin” is the TV show “The Witcher” as the quickly downloadable expansion pack will be for the hugely popular “Witcher” video game. Only complements need to apply.

The Witcher: Blood Origin premieres on Netflix December 25th.

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