The Endless: Death, Delirium, Desire, Despair, Destiny, Destruction, and Dream. Seven siblings, embodiments of the forces of nature, each with their own kingdoms and vast power. They’re the siblings whose machinations lay at the heart of The Sandman, Netflix’ newest series and easily one of its best and most expansive, creative series to date: it really works.
At the very beginning of the series, we meet Dream (Tom Sturridge), en route to capture a rogue nightmare (The Corinthian, played by Boyd Holbrook) when ill-targeted black magic captures him. Bound for far too long, the waking world and the world of dreams suffer, nightmares are loose among us, and the dream realm starts to fall apart. He has to restore his powers, his kingdom, catch his rogue nightmares, and handle emerging threats in a creative, larger-than-life narrative.
Tom Sturridge is an excellent Dream, with a strong feeling of otherworldly energy alongside a subtle growing empathy. Kirby Howell-Baptiste is perfect as Death: empathetic, charismatic, with exactly that warm, comfortable vibe that you’d hope to be greeted with while shuffling off this mortal coil. Boyd Holbrook’s a frightening Corinthian with a manipulative charm. Gwendoline Christie is a menacing, powerful Lucifer (she needs to be in everything). Jenna Coleman’s a top-tier Johanna Constantine, and of course Patton Oswalt sounds exactly like Matthew the Raven should. The casting director deserves… well, a raise, because everyone pulls their rhetorical weight.
The series excels in both worldbuilding and cinematography–it feels mightily close to the source material, with a grandeur, scale, and depth that are enjoyable to see. It gives this otherworldly narrative a strong feeling of grounded surreality. It’s easily one of the best-looking series that Netflix has produced, with light, color, scale, depth… it could go so wrong, feel small, or mishandle the tone, and it doesn’t. It’s moving, scary, or otherworldly when it needs to be. Clearly this is because of creator Neil Gaiman’s active involvement alongside David S. Goyer and Allan Heinberg’s respect for the material.
The biggest issue with the series as a whole is that certain subplots as presented aren’t quite fleshed out or connected enough to ‘fit’. It’s a long-running series, sure, so undoubtedly some aspects of the story will be fleshed out at a future date or have to otherwise be edited for the screen. Certain connections could be clearer for the audience, however—we come to find out that Dream’s imprisonment, as well as a future challenge, has a more complex origin than we thought (to avoid spoilers). We find out who did it, but the series so far severely under-develops the why. The lack of explanation confuses those plotlines, the relationships involved, and the meanings of some all-too-brief scenes. They are important plot points that are all too briefly passed through and left behind in Season 1.
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Those issues aside, The Sandman is a triumph that lands what counts and looks good doing it. The performances are great, the world is large, and it’s a really unique-feeling story. It’s bold. It’s fun. It’s dreamy. If Netflix is looking for a series that can really draw in audiences for larger-than-life experiences in a post-Stranger Things world, they’ve found it.
Sandman premieres August 5th on Netflix.