On this week’s Yesflix/NoFlix, we’re heading into the unknown with a massive culture shock. We’re all familiar with the classic story of a clueless traveller having to make-do in a foreign land. Perhaps they don’t speak the language. They certainly don’t know the customs of the locals. Situations like these can be hilarious and awkward, and can lead to some seriously entertaining TV viewing. There are plenty of things that do this well and a lot that don’t. This week we’re going to take a look at a recent show from Netflix and a movie that perhaps missed the mark on what could have been an above-average flick.
Yesflix – Marco Polo
Marco Polo is a recent addition to Netflix’s family with a first season available to watch in full and a second season well on its way. In the show, a young Marco is traded by his father into the court of the great Kublai Khan in exchange for passage along the silk road. Lovely guy, really. From there he has to navigate, not just one new culture, but what transpires to be a melting pot of several, as the conquered peoples under the Khan live side by side.
The locations are absolutely breathtaking in this show; the staggering shifts from barren desert to grasslands are utterly stunning. On top of super glossy scenery, we have a cast of characters that are genuinely interesting and funny, with a story that doesn’t waste its time trying to make Marco the centre of its universe (it’s for the best, believe me). When he comes into it, there are plots already in motion as the Khan’s kingdom balances on a knife’s edge, with potential betrayal at every corner. There is also a war looming on the horizon, with the Khan looking to take the final resisting city and outdo his predecessors. Marco enters the court as nothing more than an observer; extremely naïve and a bit of an eejit, but with a keen eye for what’s happening around him and a talent for languages.
Don’t get me wrong, there are problems with the show, like naked fight scenes for no reason whatsoever and historical accuracy out the window, to name but a few. However, there are also a lot of great things in it too, with a refreshingly diverse cast (Benedict Wong, you fabulous bastard), phenomenal fight choreography, interesting story and stunning locations to bring together a great show. The casting of Marco himself is lacklustre, but it seems to be a case of him being out-staged by the presence of larger personalities and much better actors. Marco goes against the standard ‘white guy in a foreign land showing them how it’s done’ trope, as he is laughably passable at most things, genuinely clueless in others and a sort of one-man walking disaster. To top this off, the Khan makes a point of reminding us that it was Marco’s own western father that professed his love for his only son and then bartered him like a cheap sack of spices not twenty seconds later.
If the second season of this is as good as the first, then I’m going to be one happy camper and Netflix might just be sticking around the house for a while longer.
Fans of Vikings, Black Sails and Rome will LOVE this!
Noflix – Outlander 2008
When I watched this film, I wanted to scream at the screen in the hopes that my voice would travel back in time and ring out in the ears of the writers, telling them to do something more with the glorious cast they’ve assembled. When Ron Perlman and John Hurt are in the same movie and they’re playing rival viking kings, the expectation that you’re about to watch something epic is pretty high. When you don’t, the disappointment ruins even the good parts of the movie; the ending ruining pretty much everything else.
On paper, Outlander is a film that’s pretty out there, but in a fairly clever way. Our main character Kainin is in actuality an alien from an advanced race of humans that abandoned a primitive earth as a failed seed colony. The ship transporting Kainin’s recently deceased family crash lands and unknowingly releases a stowaway creature upon the unsuspecting Viking populace. From there, the entire thing becomes a case of hit and majority miss. They introduce Sophia Miles and Jack Huston’s characters as badass vikings with independent streaks a mile wide, but give up on this almost immediately. To put it in perspective, the king (John Hurt) wants their characters to marry each other but neither is agreeable to the idea, and even though Jack Huston’s Wulfric does want to rule, he doesn’t really want a pushy wife that’s decent with a sword and wouldn’t shy away from a public put-down. Sophia Miles’ Freya is a woman who seems quite content to spend her days as a spinster. Sounds good? The goodness lasts for all of a few minutes. Enter Kainan and Wulfric is now his short-fused, brain-dead auto-rival and Freya has gone all starry eyed, offering marriage very early on in the film. Dude, don’t take the sword off her. Seriously, you kill a bear and all of a sudden everyone thinks they know you!
The main protagonist in Outlander, very much like in Marco Polo, suffers from being as wooden as a viking ship stuck in a forest. Unlike Marco Polo, though, the entire thing tries to revolve around Kainin and it falls apart at the seams. The movie very quickly becomes mindless, with what should be major events being used simply as an excuse to make our protagonist look good and push the quickly clotting story to the end before it becomes too much to stomach.
That’s not to say that there aren’t positives in this. The creature design is fantastic, so much so that it hurts me deeply that something that good was wasted on such a lazy film. The same with the cast. You assemble a great supporting cast and critically hinge a movie on such a weak lead. Criminal.