“Nightmare Of The Wolf” Is A Dazzling 1st Witcher Spin-Off

With The Witcher franchise expanding exponentially across Netflix, I’m happy to report that the live-action series’ first spin-off is a resounding success. And as much as we all love Geralt of Rivia, the thrilling anime Nightmare Of The Wolf is sure to have fans baying for more adventures with Vesemir (voiced by Theo James), the charismatic monster-hunter who predates Geralt by almost a century – so it’s a good thing that season two of The Witcher, premiering later this year, will reunite audiences with Vesemir: albeit an older and wiser version of the character, portrayed in live-action by Kim Bodnia.

Nightmare Of The Wolf
Nightmare Of The Wolf | netflix.com

Or…well, it’s partly a good thing. Nightmare Of The Wolf is at its best when it’s doing its own thing and not trying too hard to connect back to the live-action series. Some crossover is inevitable because so many of the characters in this franchise are immortal, but Nightmare Of The Wolf tells such an interesting story, and with so many fascinating and complex characters, that at several points I totally forgot that it was a spin-off. The film stumbles a little in its final minutes when it starts feeling less like a stand-alone feature, and more like an extended prologue for The Witcher season two. I half-expected the words “Vesemir Will Return” to show up before the credits rolled.

But I do believe you could jump into Nightmare Of The Wolf without having watched The Witcher, and it would give you just enough worldbuilding to work with before starting the live-action series. Right up until those final minutes, the film is a wildly fun ride around The Continent that delivers on character development, action, and the kind of fantasy spectacle for which animation (and in this case, the high-quality anime of South Korea’s Studio Mir) is perfectly suited. Animation is simply capable of things that live-action isn’t, at least not on a limited CGI budget.

Take magic, for example. When The Witcher uses magic, it’s generally of the non-flashy variety – lots of wind-gusts, and conveniently invisible energy blasts and stuff. And it works, for the most part, in the grounded environment of the live-action series. But Nightmare Of The Wolf is straight-up fantasy, and the sky’s the limit when it comes to how much magic can be used, or how epic and visually stunning it can be. The anime shows off Witchers at the height of their ability, wielding magical spells and runes in battles with monsters who are capable of many of the same tricks, and mages who defy the very laws of physics. The third-act battle involving all three is a real treat.

And while The Witcher got a lot of criticism for not featuring all that many monsters in a show about monster-hunters, that’s not a complaint that can be had of Nightmare Of The Wolf. This film is chock-full of more demons, ghouls, werewolves, wraiths, and other beasts and creepy-crawlies in just an hour and a half than the live-action series could probably have afforded across eight episodes. Mind you, season two of The Witcher appears to have a great many monsters of its own, including a leshy like the one that Vesemir fights in the first few minutes of this film, so there’s no need to look down on the live-action series.

But of course, the real heart of this story is the human drama at play – because what are humans if not the worst monsters of them all, and the ones that Witchers are duty-bound to protect? That philosophical dilemma has always been the most interesting thing thematically about The Witcher franchise, but Nightmare Of The Wolf approaches the subject with more determination than the live-action series. At the time this prequel film takes place, Witchers and humans still interact regularly – and we can see the first rifts in that once-symbiotic relationship that by Geralt’s time have widened into a chasm of prejudice and distrust.

Nightmare Of The Wolf
Lady Zerbst and Tetra Gilcrest | redanianintelligence.com

But while that’s all very interesting stuff, I feel that even Nightmare Of The Wolf cheats a little by retconning a pivotal moment in Vesemir’s backstory – the attack on the Witcher citadel of Kaer Morhen by an angry mob – to include monsters and mages. Perhaps it was meant to highlight the similarities between humans and monsters (and the ease with which they’ll side with their own enemies to gang up on somebody else), but it does draw the focus away from the conversation about humankind’s own capacity for monstrous acts of violence and hate.

On the flip-side, Nightmare Of The Wolf features one of the franchise’s most prominent human characters who is just that – all flesh and blood; no hidden superpowers. Her name is Lady Zerbst (voiced by Mary McDonnell), and she manages to steal the spotlight away from Vesemir in every one of her scenes. The spirit of kindness and generosity that’s motivated her for her entire life is like a breath of fresh air in the grimdark world of the Witchers where most people are driven by their worst instincts. She also has a really lovely romance, which is kind of a spoiler so I won’t give away anything except to say that it’s adorable.

Moving on from that, this film is built on plot twists. Installing powerful mages in every royal court across The Continent was always a great opportunity for political intrigue, and Nightmare Of The Wolf realizes some of that potential here, with an intricate tale of conspiracy and subterfuge. I can’t talk about any of that, however, so instead let’s discuss something that was revealed in the trailers: the return of Filavandrel (with Tom Canton reprising the role). The Elven king plays a larger role here than he did in The Witcher, and we get a new perspective on him and his motives that humanizes the enigmatic character a bit, but not so much that he loses any of his mystique.

And although this next point is technically a spoiler, it’s also so depressingly predictable that I felt I had to bring it up, because…seriously? The Witcher doesn’t have very many LGBTQ+ characters to begin with (and Ciri’s bisexuality has yet to be mentioned in the live-action series), so to introduce a cool new character, give them a few lines of dialogue confirming them as a queer Witcher (and if I’m not mistaken, the only queer male Witcher in the franchise), and then kill them off without even so much as a noble death in battle? That’s both cringeworthy and frustrating. We wanted bisexual Vesemir, Netflix; not a Bury Your Gays trope!

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Vesemir | gamerevolution.com

Things like that do hinder my enjoyment of Nightmare Of The Wolf, but the film is very well-made and serves as a great introduction to a character I think audiences will want to see much more of going forward. There’s plenty more story to tell through Vesemir’s eyes, and with The Witcher franchise already growing across multiple spin-offs, another anime film or miniseries couldn’t hurt, right? It’s so nice to meet a Witcher who actually…talks, and is emotionally honest, I’m not sure I’m ready to give him up just yet, or even trade him in for the broodier older version we’ll meet in live-action come December.

Rating: 8/10

“Masters Of The Universe: Revelations: Part 1” Review!

I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of the original Masters Of The Universe franchise is limited to the areas in which the 1980’s cartoon overlapped with its sister series, She-Ra – and even more specifically, limited to the few and far between instances in which the recent reboot of She-Ra referred back to those earlier overlaps. I’m the type of person who, at multiple points while watching the new Masters Of The Universe reboot, found myself more interested in learning how the planet Eternia from Masters Of The Universe was connected to Etheria from She-Ra (in case you’re wondering, they’re actually sister planets, and the alien First Ones from She-Ra are the Elders of the He-Man and Masters Of The Universe mythos), than in the actual story.

Masters Of The Universe
Skeletor and He-Man | deadline.com

So I’m not the type of person to get enraged by that plot twist at the end of episode one. If you know, you know. Even if you don’t know, you’ve probably already seen an army of embittered dudebros fit to rival the Horde, churning out unnecessarily long Twitter threads about how the new reboot is ruining Masters Of The Universe with its “SJW agenda!”, review-bombing the show on Rotten Tomatoes, and generally having the kind of loud and embarrassing public temper-tantrum that would normally make me more interested in this show. If it angers those guys, it’s gotta be doing something right…right?

Well, no. Because when I got up to the plot twist, I realized that I also just…didn’t care much about it one way or the other. Simply put, Masters Of The Universe basically jumps into the story with the assumption that you’re already a hardcore fan of the original 1980’s series, and don’t need a refresher on who its main characters are or why we should feel emotionally attached to any of them. It offers the general audience member almost no time to know either Prince Adam (voiced by Chris Wood), better known as the hulking hero He-Man, or the warrior Teela (voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar), before the twist happens and throws everything into the kind of disarray that would probably have felt a lot more earned near the end of this first season.

But here’s the thing: the twist isn’t a bad plot twist. Obviously, it’s angered a lot of people – including some who I’m sure have legitimate reasons for being angry that are a bit more rational than the reasoning of right-wing trolls. I can definitely see why it might disappoint some fans. But perhaps because I have no nostalgia for Masters Of The Universe, and no attachment to these characters, the plot twist does sound good on paper to me. It could have led to a really compelling upheaval of the show’s status quo. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. And the show very quickly turns around and signals its intentions to undo the twist, which feels like a cheap way to keep people watching until yet another plot twist in the finale that I think is bound to upset pretty much everybody at this point.

And even though Masters Of The Universe is only five episodes, each around thirty minutes long (to be clear, this short season is billed as “Part 1” of what I believe will be a two-part series), the story botches its attempt to springboard off the shock value of the first plot twist and steer that momentum to the end. It repeatedly drags to a halt and then awkwardly starts up again, constantly throwing new and increasingly one-dimensional characters at the screen in an attempt to create the illusion of action. Even the protagonist has only the bare bones of what could have been an arc, but which is abruptly resolved in episode four, leaving them to do a whole lot of nothing in the finale.

Masters Of The Universe
Orko and Evil-Lyn | geekgirlauthority.com

But while the vast majority of the characters in this show are interchangeable, brightly-colored cardboard cutouts, there are two exceptions: Orko (voiced by Griffin Newman) and Evil-Lyn (voiced by Game Of Thrones‘ Lena Headey). The former is one of He-Man’s magical sidekicks, who must confront his feelings of inadequacy head-on while his life is very literally endangered with each passing day – he doesn’t have nearly enough screen-time, but every moment of it is well-utilized. Headey’s Evil-Lyn also undergoes a lot of growth, albeit reluctantly, when she finds herself suddenly free to choose her own destiny: she has a very large role, and is probably the only reason I’m genuinely excited for Part 2.

As for Mark Hamill’s villainous Skeletor, well…he’s not really in the show all that much, and Hamill doesn’t get a chance to exercise much of the campy over-the-top humor I think we hoped he’d bring to the iconic character. He does a lot of wheezing and maniacal laughing, and maybe that’s all that some fans need from Skeletor, but the memes and gifs I’ve seen of the original 1980’s version promised a much more animated performance than what we get from this reboot.

The weakness of the characters might have been excusable or at the very least tolerable, if the plot were more compelling, or the action scenes more thrilling and diverse. But Masters Of The Universe‘s core issue, as I see it, is that the series doesn’t know whether the now-adult audience of the original, shamelessly cheesy cartoon wants their reboot to have matured alongside them, or not. And out of all that wavering is born both a tangled mess of a story that can shift from being obviously (and at times gratingly) aimed at children, to being shockingly dark and depressing without a moment’s notice, and a series of fight sequences that are just as tonally jarring.

So what is the fan-base for this show going to look like, exactly? It’s too diverse for the dudebros, clearly (to which I can only say: good). It tries to play the Ambiguously Gay card with Teela in what I assume is a halfhearted effort to appeal to She-Ra fans, but the show lacks most of the qualities that made She-Ra special to so many people. It will probably upset a lot of fans of the original He-Man series because of some of the choices it makes. It wobbles between being too reliant on prior knowledge of the franchise for kids, and too kiddish for adults.

Masters Of The Universe
He-Man | polygon.com

There’s stuff worth salvaging from this wreck of a first season, namely Lena Headey’s Evil-Lyn, but I’m not sure it’s anywhere near enough to warrant resurrecting this franchise while doing nothing to put a fresh spin on it in the way She-Ra did with its source material. Sorry, folks, but I’ll take the Princesses of Power over the Masters of the Universe any day.

Series Rating: 5/10

“Nightmare Of The Wolf”, More Like “Daydreams Of Vesemir”, Am I Right?

So…remember when I reviewed the first brief teaser for Netflix’s upcoming Witcher anime prequel Nightmare Of The Wolf, and I said that from what we could see of the film’s protagonist, Vesemir, he looked, you know, moderately attractive? Yeah, well, that was then. This is now. And today, we were blessed with a full-length trailer for Nightmare Of The Wolf…and a much, much better look at Vesemir, the gorgeous, sassy, hilarious 2D hunk with whom the entire Witcher fandom is currently obsessed.

Nightmare Of The Wolf
I mean, have you SEEN Vesemir? | collider.com

But why? Why is Vesemir hot? Who looked at the grouchy, solemn, closed-off elderly character from Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher novels and thought “he was probably a total beefcake once upon a time”? To be honest…I don’t know. Trust me, I wish I knew, so I could give that person a well-earned shoutout for their bold imagination.

But looking at it from a thematic perspective, I can see where it makes sense. Vesemir, as in the Vesemir we’ll be introduced to in Nightmare Of The Wolf just a month from now, is a completely different kind of Witcher from his student, Geralt of Rivia, whose journeys we’ve followed in The Witcher season one. Vesemir is vivacious, talkative, and confident. He already seems genuinely appealing to be around, and to say he’s easy on the eyes would be an understatement. Geralt is…none of that (well, let’s be honest, he’s still easy on the eyes because Henry Cavill is still Henry Cavill no matter how hideous the wig and contact lenses he’s forced to wear, but he’s definitely more weathered than Vesemir). By Geralt’s time, the Witchers enjoy none of the privileges and luxuries they were awarded during Vesemir’s heyday, so this kind of deterioration is logical.

Nightmare Of The Wolf
Nightmare Of The Wolf | italy24news.com

So what changes? What happens to Vesemir that transforms him from a cheeky, stunningly attractive maverick into a dour, gloomy old man wasting away in the mountaintop fortress of Kaer Morhen with the rugged remnants of the once-mighty brotherhood of Witchers? Well, I’m gonna guess that in Nightmare Of The Wolf at least, it will be explained as the aftermath of an attack on Kaer Morhen which, in Sapkowski’s novels, plays a pivotal role in Vesemir’s early life, sobering him to reality. Because it’s no horde of vampires or leshen or werewolves who attack the citadel of the Witchers, but a mob of ordinary people stirred up to violence against a group they view as not only outsiders, but literally subhuman. That the Witchers are also keeping ordinary people safe from the vampires and leshen and werewolves is something that only becomes apparent in hindsight, after their ranks have been depleted in the massacre.

By Geralt’s time, there’s only a couple of Witchers still roaming the Continent, scavenging for an existence and still doing the wearisome work of hunting and killing monsters to protect people who view them as no better than beasts themselves. There’s plenty of juicy thematic material to work with there, if you’re not won over by the sheer sight of a bare-chested Vesemir lounging in a bathtub – a wonderful homage to the iconic image of Geralt in a bathtub from the CD Projekt Red video games that was also mirrored in season one of The Witcher. Even though Geralt won’t have any more bathtub scenes in season two, the franchise will continue to provide us with more “man flesh”, according to Cavill, and Nightmare Of The Wolf‘s Vesemir proves that that is very much the case.

Nightmare Of The Wolf
Tetra and Vesemir | slashfilm.com

And if you’re just here for monster battles and epic fight scenes, that’s cool! Nightmare Of The Wolf seems to have plenty of those, too. But I’m gonna be honest with you, I am living for the irreverent humor and light-hearted tone of this trailer. It’s a complete heel-turn from the dark and gloomy teaser, and it makes me a lot more interested in Vesemir as a character, rather than a monster-killing machine – and not just him, but also his supporting characters, including the sorceress Tetra Gilcrest. I believe she’s an entirely original character created for Nightmare Of The Wolf, and I wonder if she’ll appear in live-action at some point and reunite with the older Vesemir, played by Kim Bodnia, whom we’ll meet in The Witcher season two come December. I’m not really sensing any romantic chemistry between the two, but the gay/lesbian solidarity vibes are off the charts.

Trailer Rating: 8.5/10

“Nightmare Of The Wolf” 1st Trailer Review

The Witcher franchise has already expanded from page to live-action to video games – animation is a logical next step, and anime specifically provides an excellent medium in which to tell a number of stories from The Continent that are abundant with the same kind of visceral action and chilling horror that made Netflix’s dark supernatural anime series Castlevania hugely successful. Nightmare Of The Wolf, a feature-length film produced by Netflix Animation in collaboration with Studio Mir, will be the franchise’s first foray into 2D anime, exploring the backstory of one of the greatest Witchers of all time: Vesemir.

Nightmare Of The Wolf
Nightmare Of The Wolf | theverge.com

One of the most instantly recognizable characters from The Witcher thanks to his prominent role in the CD Projekt Red video games based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s original novels and short stories, Vesemir has a lot of backstory that could be covered in this film – but Nightmare Of The Wolf‘s exceedingly brief teaser trailer, released today, barely gives us a clue as to what’s going on, or what the infamous Witcher’s character arc will be. Hell, we don’t even get a full face-reveal: which is doubly perplexing because the trailer for The Witcher‘s second season, which will feature live-action Vesemir as an old man, is also hiding the character’s face for some reason. We know what he looks like, Netflix!

Because Nightmare Of The Wolf premieres on August 23rd, just a little over a month away, we’ll have already met animated Vesemir by the time we catch up with him in The Witcher proper – so it’s possible the live-action series will include references and callbacks to events in the film, making this an important next stop for Witcher fans who want all the details about who Vesemir is, where he comes from, what his motivations are, and of course, what monsters he’s battled and slain during his journeys. Let’s do some speculating, shall we?

I’m not kidding when I say this teaser is exceedingly brief: it’s a mere forty-five seconds long, and some of that is just title cards flashing by. But from what we can see, Nightmare Of The Wolf follows an attractive young Vesemir (I mean, take the “attractive” part of that with a grain of salt as we literally only see the back of his head, his beard and, like, a quick profile shot that’s mostly just his nose) on adventures through the wilderness, battling all kinds of beasties while helping to establish the warrior traditions of Kaer Morhen that will still be place when Geralt and Ciri train there many decades later.

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The titular wolf, perhaps? | deadline.com

I assume his primary antagonists in Nightmare Of The Wolf will be vampires (speaking of Castlevania). A notable incident in Vesemir’s backstory, during which he was injured, was his defense of Fox Hollow from a swarm of bloodthirsty vampires (why did I specify bloodthirsty? Are vampires in horror ever not bloodthirsty?) led by a higher vampire named Emiel Regis Rohellec Terzieff-Godefroy, and we do see a flock of bats with glowing green eyes forming the shape of a leering death’s head in the night sky above Vesemir, followed by a shot of a demon with similar glowing green eyes and pronounced fangs. I’m not saying it’s Emiel, but I’m definitely hoping it is because vampires are awesome.

Of course, Vesemir is a Witcher, so his most consistent and organized opposition comes not from monsters lurking in the woods, but from humans who distrust or fear him and his kind. During Vesemir’s youth, the newly-constructed citadel of Kaer Morhen where he and many other Witchers were training was brutally attacked by an angry mob of villagers from the surrounding lands, and Vesemir – one of the survivors of the tragedy – subsequently rose through the significantly-depleted ranks of Witcher hierarchy to become Kaer Morhen’s leader. His “School of the Wolf” was very powerful for a while, but gradually became too powerful, leading to yet another attack from humans; this time stirred up by King Radowit II, whose crowned visage perhaps appears on the gold coins we see in the trailer.

Vesemir’s negative experiences convinced him to follow a policy of strict isolationism after this second massacre, but he wasn’t always a loner like his adopted son, Geralt – he formed a close bond with Guxart, a rival Witcher who mentored at the School of the Cat, and with whom Vesemir was arrested and held captive by Radowit. Anyone getting rivals to lovers vibes from these two? Just me? Either way, the School of the Cat goes undercover, leaving Vesemir pretty much alone at Kaer Morhen for decades, raising a dwindling generation of new Witchers – including Geralt of Rivia, and later Cirilla of Cintra, which is where The Witcher will resume with the story.

Nightmare Of The Wolf
Video Game Vesemir | playstationlifestyle.net

All in all, I’m very excited to see where this goes. This teaser doesn’t give us a whole lot to go on regarding plot, action, or even voice-acting, so I’m not sure exactly how to rate it, but I will be definitely be tuning in to see Nightmare Of The Wolf, and I hope it can tide me over while I wait impatiently for The Witcher to return this December.

Trailer Rating: 7/10