REVIEW: ‘The Witcher’ is an Epic Fantasy

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Based on the best-selling fantasy series of books, The Witcher is an epic tale of fate and family. Netflix Original The Witcher is a story of the intertwined destinies of three individuals in the vast world of The Continent, where humans, elves, Witchers, gnomes, and monsters battle to survive and thrive. But the most beautiful thing about the source material and the series is that there isn’t a single moment where good and evil is easily identified.

As Geralt of Rivia, Henry Cavill had the large task of not only living up to the character of the books but also the Geralt of The Witcher video game series – the latter of which presents a visual image of the Witcher, bathtub and all. Thankfully, Cavill as Geralt is beyond anything I expected. While this is a testament to Cavill’s acting, its also because of his ability to nail the physicality that the role deserves. The world of The Witcher is gorgeous, it’s wide, it’s vast, and the magic is epic. But, it’s in the show’s fight choreography that makes it go above and beyond in terms of quality.

Cavill’s ability to expertly perform quick fight scenes with a variety of weapons and the ability of the episodes’ directors to film the action sequences without using heavy-handed editing is perfect.  Instead, each movement is effortless, quick, and committed. There isn’t a single fight between Geralt and an opponent that doesn’t feel real, athletic, and brutal. The level of violence in the show is high, but each moment is art. Ahead is impaled, something severed – it’s grim, but also, Cavill’s movements make it a dance. Cavill’s speed is something you don’t expect from a fighter of his size and his ability to wield the large swords and other weapons effortlessly is something only possible because of that stature.

The Witcher

In one of the most beautifully crafted fights this season, we see Geralt take on a much smaller female opponent, Renfri (Emma Appleton) after disposing of a street full of her men. The balance of fighting styles between the two is well done by the choreographers and Renfri’s ability to stand on her own against Geralt is believable. But it isn’t just the physical choreography. The Witcher also nails the visuals associated with Geralt’s powers, or “signs,” as fans of the series know them as.

Not only are they used sparingly, but their look is one that fans of The Witcher III game will enjoy. While the series is based on the books, and not the games that pick up after book two, there are elements like Geralt’s signs that take direct notes from the gaming world. It’s a smart choice appeasing a wide base of fans that only know the game series without losing fans of the novels and opening the door for new fans to enter the fold.

Additionally, the season is propelled by Cavill’s ability to bring dry humor and wit into scenes against more boisterous and loud characters. He’s calm and quiet, but when he speaks, each piece of his dialogue means something. While there are moments of humor that seem forced, The Witcher mostly balances its action and darkness with moments of levity. This is done specifically through key characters that bring emotion into Geralt’s circle, a good choice given the nature of a Witcher is that that they have no emotion.

The Witcher is more than just action and Geralt, although the stunning creature design. Although, the creatures that he encounters in the very “monster-of-the-week” format propel Geralt’s storyline as a Witcher, a hunter, and overall a character learning more about himself as he moves through the world.  Geralt, ultimately stands as a moral litmus test for the series. He is a neutral that doesn’t choose sides, which forces us to examine the choices of others. That being said, he does more than just neutrality. He also serves as a mirror for others, exploring why the lesser evil is still evil. Monsters aren’t always the ones we can identify on sight alone, and while Geralt shows us the creatures of the world, he also exposes the human ones as well.

In addition to Geralt’s story, we see Ciri (Freya Allan) and Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), both of whom have powerful transformative arcs of their own in both physical and emotional ways. For Ciri, The Witcher is a coming of age story. Through her, we see a push against the expectation of the Crown from a young girl who would rather play in the street with poor children than sit in her castle. Ciri also explores The Continent for us. She pulls us through the world on her adventure.

As Yennefer, Chalotra is dynamic, enchanting, and teaches us about the magic of the Continent. Yennefer grows as a mage, learning the histories of the elves, the humans, the laws of magic in The Witcher, and we grow with her. In Yennefer’s scenes, we get to see the true test of the film’s visual effects budget and it’s executed flawlessly. Yennefer uses a wealth of magic that further explores different details of the series including illusions, portals, and lightning. The beauty of the magic visualizations is matched by the power that Chalotra brings to every moment that she’s on screen. 

Yennefer is driven by emotion. Through her story, we see a balance against pushing back against patriarchal structures within the world of the mages while also exploring where to accept and make your way in the world.  Yennefer’s story is about overcoming a world stacked against you while still living up to your inherent potential. It’s a powerful one that improves on her story in the books.

Finally, the set and costume designs are all extremely breathtaking with not a single location looking like another. The world of The Witcher is epic, gorgeous, and expansive. From snow to woods and castles and more, season one of The Witcher has just begun to touch the Continent and it already feels so large. I can’t wait for more exploration. But, while the sets are so extremely detailed, the costuming is even more so. Each character’s personality displays in their clothing, their growth, and their situations.

The Witcher is a fantasy epic. It’s beautiful and it’s action-packed, but it’s also deeply emotional. It’s a must-watch for fans of the genre, but more importantly, it works for fans of the games, of the books, and those just coming into the story. Not to mention it gets fan-service right.

The Witcher is streaming exclusively on Netflix.

The Witcher
  • 9.5/10
    Rating - 9.5/10
9.5/10

TL;DR

The Witcher is a fantasy epic. It’s beautiful and it’s action-packed, but it’s also deeply emotional. It’s a must-watch for fans of the genre, but more importantly, it works for fans of the games, of the books, and those just coming into the story. Not to mention it gets fan-service right.