The Wheel of Time review: Flat-pack fantasy fills the time before the Lord of the Rings returns

Josha Stradowski, Barney Harris, Daniel Henney, Madeleine Madden and Rosamund Pike drive the fantasy formula forward in The Wheel of Time.

Josha Stradowski, Barney Harris, Daniel Henney, Madeleine Madden and Rosamund Pike drive the fantasy formula forward in Amazon’s The Wheel of Time.

Jan Thijs

Gather yourself around the fire, travelers, for I must weave a tale of another age: an age of rings and thrones, shadows and bones, witches and witches. They called it: the age of streaming. And into this age of warring streaming services, The Wheel of Time rode. But will it fulfill the prophecy and defeat the hordes of fantasy shows and become a huge hit?

The Wheel of Time, which airs on Amazon Prime Video from Nov. 19, is based on Robert Jordan’s long-running series of novels. The first three episodes stream on Friday, followed by a new episode each week. It takes place in a fantasy realm, rebuilt after a disaster, except that darkness threatens again when a master called the Dragon returns to the world. The show follows a war witch and her samurai sidekick as they recruit a handful of youngsters, each of whom may be the reincarnated dragon, on their way out on a journey through a treacherous land of swords and sorcery.

Having sold over 90 million copies, the Wheel of Time saga must have a unique hook. But after watching the first few episodes of the TV show, I would like to be Bilbo if I can tell you what it is. From the obligatory ominous opening voiceover to the animal trolls chasing our heroes, the TV adaptation is built of perfectly familiar, flat-pack fantasy stuff. Everyone wears tunics (or robes if they are fancy / morally ambiguous) and quarrel about prophecies in muted tones while riding through a forest in Hungary or elsewhere. They go on a mission and have a big sword fight every episode. Arrogant priestesses declare their magic. No one ever smiles.

It’s a little impossible to tell if it’s all really expensive or really cheap. Every now and then there is a sudden stiffness, but nothing is too ugly. There’s some CGI magic and monsters, but the scariest thing is, you guessed it, folks.

Obviously, if you’re a fan of the books, you’ll be happy to see your favorite characters brought to life, but longtime fans of Jordan’s richly detailed world certainly deserve better than to see their beloved stories flattened into such a formal fantasy. filler.

The mysterious element of the show is intriguing as you consider which of the main characters may be the reincarnated Dragon, which is at least a dismissive twist on the “chosen” prophecy narrative. And things get spicy a few episodes when another challenger to the cloak shows up. But the characters themselves are just not that interesting. After three or four episodes, I still could not tell you the names of the main players. And after decades of debate over their dream casting, fans end up with a lead role of blandly beautiful drama school types doing their best, while Rosamund Pike hovers around in a mantle like a Scottish Widows commercial.

Rosamund Pike rolls out the fantasy formula in The Wheel of Time.

Oh that’s magic.

Amazon Studios

The world itself has some interesting gender politics going on, as the war witches from Aes Sedai are the most powerful faction in the country and specifically target men who frolic in magic. This is just one of several elements in the show that call for more compelling development, or that are done with more sense elsewhere (Motherland: Fort Salem and Y: The Last Man tackle gendered worlds, for example).

The Wheel of Time deserves to be measured on its own merits, and it’s harmless enough entertainment. But it only invites comparison at every turn. The monsters, for example, look cool, but still you can not help but think of the Lord of the Rings’ snarling orcs and hooded ringwraiths.

That’s 20 years ago Lord of the Rings movie showed how modern visual effects and character-driven storytelling could make fantasy excitingly emotional. It’s 10 years ago that Game of Thrones made fantasy TV impossible to miss. As any streaming service struggled to do the next GoT, The wheels of time must have seemed ripe for adaptation. But some things work better on the page, and this bloodless version fails to capture the magic the books have.

Game of Thrones had sex and dragons, The Witcher has Henry Cavill, Shadow and bone have sexy cheaters. The dark crystal has amazing dolls, and The carnival series has a whole steaming steampunk thing going on. The fantasy genre has more than ever the opportunity to be wildly imaginative and deliciously unique, but that is not the case with The Wheel of Time. Still, next year we come full circle with Game of Thrones prequel Dragon’s House and Amazon’s wildly expensive Lord of the Rings customization in September. While you wait, you can turn your wheels with the Wheel of Time.

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