Willow season 1 review – throwback fantasy fare is just good enough

November 30, 2022 (Last updated: 3 weeks ago)
Jonathon Wilson 0
Disney+, Streaming Service, TV, TV Reviews
3.5

Summary

This unlikely series continues a decades-old story for the right reasons — earnest appreciation for the world and its characters. It’s just a shame that 2022 isn’t exactly starved of better, riskier, and more expansive fantasy fare.

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3.5

Summary

This unlikely series continues a decades-old story for the right reasons — earnest appreciation for the world and its characters. It’s just a shame that 2022 isn’t exactly starved of better, riskier, and more expansive fantasy fare.


This review of Willow (2022) season 1 is spoiler-free.


In a world where Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon, and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power didn’t exist, the new Disney+ series Willow might seem like a welcome, nostalgic throwback to a kind of swashbuckling adventure that has fallen out of favor since the same-titled dark fantasy this is a sequel to. As things stand in 2022, though, Willow feels like a pale imitation of the better, bigger shows that its original incarnation almost certainly inspired.

The good news is that nobody was crying out for a sequel to the 1988 Ron Howard epic, which was written by George Lucas and brought to life by his team at Industrial Light & Magic. This isn’t IP with the curb appeal of Disney’s usual franchise fare – most fans of the original will have aged out of the demographic this show is targeting; many will have probably forgotten having seen the original in the first place. So, that means Jonathan Kasdan’s sequel has been made for the right reasons – genuine affection for that world and its characters. In this age of “content” above all else that should count for something.

The original film was about a Nelwyn sorcerer named Willow (Warwick Davis) being tasked with protecting a child named Elora Danan, one of those all-powerful children of wordy prophecies of particular interest to evil Queens like Bavmorda, whom Willow and his allies Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) and Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) were able to defeat. A magical barrier was erected around the kingdom of Tir Asleen, Elora was hidden away, her identity a secret even to herself, and peace has reigned for decades since.

Of course, the premiere of Willow changes that. Sorsha’s princess daughter Kit (Ruby Cruz) is to be married off to a noble boy named Graydon (Tony Revolori), while Kit’s charming twin brother Airk (Dempsey Bryk) has fallen in love with a humble kitchen girl named Dove (Ellie Bamber). Kit’s knightly best friend Jade (Erin Kellyman) is due to leave the royal court with Commander Ballantine (Ralph Ineson) to begin training, and Kit’s immediate future looks exceptionally bleak.

This isn’t to say she’s happy when Airk is kidnapped by some horrific-looking forces of darkness, but she’s certainly thankful for having been able to swerve her nuptials and not having to part ways with her bestie. They set out together, along with Graydon, Dove, a criminal named Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel) who has been languishing in the castle dungeons for years, and Willow himself, to rescue Airk and potentially avert the destruction of all humankind.

I’m not sure how unique one can claim Willow to be – the first two episodes are about a ragtag fellowship venturing out into the unknown to fight off a great world-destroying evil, and there are lots of lovely shots of the heroes on horseback as they traipse across lush grassland and around towering mountains. It looks lovely, but also very familiar. Luckily, our lack of intimate knowledge of the source material means that there could very well be plenty of surprises to enjoy as Kasdan works out the details of the mythology. The creature designs in the first episode are pleasantly grim, so more of that and we might be onto a winner.

And it’s hard not to buy into the cast. There’s a much more pronounced comedic streak in this sequel, and the dynamics between the younger characters especially are interesting. Kellyman, who is clearly a star in the making, is no stranger to big franchise fare. She’s probably best known for her role as Karli Morgenthau in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but she also cropped up in Solo: A Star Wars Story, the BBC’s television adaptation of Les Miserables, and the latest season of Netflix’s Top Boy. She’s always good, often in thankless parts, and Willow seems like it might be her biggest break yet.

She isn’t the only actor who stands out in the first two episodes, which are dense with exposition and introductions, and it’s surprising how evenly weighted the core ensemble feels. We definitely need to see more of this world and learn what sets it apart from others, and we ideally need to really see it rather than hear other characters talk about it, but that should hopefully come with time. For now, Willow seems to have set out on an accessible new adventure with an old-school sense of discovery and fun. We’ll just have to wait and see whether it becomes anything more than that.

You can stream Willow (2022) season 1 exclusively on Disney+.


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