Lost in the fold
Problematic content besets Netflix’s lavish but disappointing Shadow and Bone
Fantasy-novel-based films have a mixed track record: It’s rare that the visual retelling can capture the world the writer created and readers imagined. The new Netflix series Shadow and Bone gets the visual elements largely right, bringing to life the world of author Leigh Bardugo in stunning fashion. Regrettably, the source material and added film subplots are not worthy of such lavish treatment.
Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) is a lonely orphan girl whose mixed ethnicity adds to her persecution. Her friendship with an orphan boy, Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux), is the sole spark of joy in her life.
The two friends grow up and join the army of the kingdom of Ravka (seemingly based loosely on the Russia of the Tsars). Alina is a mapmaker, and Mal a tracker. Some of the Ravkans are known as Grisha: They have various magical powers, and their rivals fear and hate them. Years ago, an evil Grisha divided the kingdom into two, his spell creating “the Fold,” a treacherous cloud of darkness inhabited by volcra, dragon creatures that make passage almost (but not quite) impossible.
Alina and Mal volunteer for a ship bound for the other side of the Fold, and in the course of this journey, Alina discovers her own Grisha powers: As the ship is attacked by the volcra and Mal is nearly carried off, she bursts out in light and flame, rescuing her companions and killing many of the volcra. Humble, lonely Alina is the long-awaited and legendary “Sun Summoner,” and soon many different factions are battling to have her on their side.
The sinister Gen. Alexander Kirigan spirits her away to his palace, hoping her powers, combined with his, will consolidate his evil plans for the kingdom. Mal is determined to save his friend and tracks her relentlessly against all odds.
It’s all a bit of a mess of storylines and plot twists: Besides internal factions, the Ravkans must deal with the Fjerdans, another nation that despises the witchcraft of the Grisha and is intent to wipe them out. (The Ravkans ridicule the backwards Fjerdans, whose values include traditional roles for men and women.) The series is hard to follow for those who haven’t read the novels on which it is based.
Although aimed at a young adult audience, Shadow and Bone, rated TV-14, is full of violence, with heroes and villains dying in spectacular ways. It also includes some sexual content (including homosexual love scenes) and nudity, and it glorifies the witchcraft and magic of the Grisha in a way that would give most Christian viewers pause. Parents likely will want to keep their children from viewing this disappointing production.
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