Henry Cavill plays the title role in “The Witcher,” but giving a pulse to this dreary medieval fantasy series is too much of a job even for Superman. Netflix is surely hoping the show will scratch the “Game of Thrones” itch, while merely demonstrating how difficult that brand of magic is to conjure.
Cavill is Geralt of Rivia, a mutant slayer of monsters, gruffly navigating a world of broadswords and bloody battles. He’s on a collision course with two other characters: Ciri (Freya Allan), a young princess unaware of her importance, pursued by forces unknown after her kingdom falls; and Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), a hunchback who — cast out by her family — gradually comes into her own as a powerful sorceress.
Based on a series of bestselling books that have also spawned a popular game, this season of “The Witcher” is burdened by a general stiffness, from the performances to the dialogue. Despite his arresting look under those flowing pale locks, Cavill’s voice seldom rises above a low growl.
One would think a show filled with an abundance of blood, royal intrigue, the occasional orgy, and fantasy characters like elves and gnomes would have the requisite ingredients to hold your interest.
Everything here, however, feels generic — at least for those who aren’t immersed in the source — without forging much of a bond with the characters. There’s also a bad habit of repeating key lines of dialogue, to the point where if you took a drink every time someone mentions “destiny,” you’d never make it through an entire hour, much less the eight-episode run.
As noted, the end of “Game of Thrones” left a void that premium services are eagerly attempting to fill, the drawback being that mounting such fare — and “The Witcher” certainly looks expensive — represents no small investment, compounding the pain if it goes wrong.
Like any fantasy series based on an established property, “The Witcher” should generate a measure of curiosity, bolstered by marking Cavill’s first TV flight since it was reported last year that he would be hanging up his cape. The most compelling character actually turns out to be Yennefer, which isn’t enough to make the series feel like more than a tepid addition to an already-saturated genre.
“The Witcher” seemingly comes well equipped to do battle for viewers, but there’s no getting around its dull edges. Geralt is told more than once that, in this brutal world, he must “choose the lesser evil.” Happily, those looking for something to watch — whether on Netflix or one of its rivals — possess a wider range of options.
“The Witcher” premieres Dec. 20 on Netflix.
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