Based on the beloved award-winning DC comic series by Neil Gaiman, The Sandman is a character-driven blend of myth and dark fantasy woven together over 10 episodes. Dream (Tom Sturridge), aka Morpheus, the master of Dreams, is the Lord of the realm we all visit when we dream. Dream is one member of a larger family known as the Endless, immortal beings who rule their own realms. Dream is unexpectedly captured and held prisoner for a century, leaving nightmares free to roam and his absence sets off a series of events that will change the dreaming and waking worlds forever. To restore order, Dream must journey across different worlds and timelines to mend the mistakes he’s made during his vast existence, revisiting old friends and foes, and meeting new entities — both cosmic and human — along the way.
The instant The Sandman begins, it is a visual treat that borders the fantastical and realistic in moments when it needs. None so prevalent than the opening scene of dream captured and captured in the binding circle. The camera work is nothing short of artistic when combined with the lighting that beautifully sets the tone and expertly plays with shadows light that create a truly stunning shot. That is consistent from the first episode to the last and plays an integral part in setting up the worlds Dream visits to correct mistakes of the past. One of the most visually strong moments happen in episode four when Dream visits Lucifer Morningstar (Gwendoline Christie), the beautiful but cunning ruler of Hell who has her own issue with the Endless and wants Hell recognised as a sovereignty. Rather than a physical fight, the two spar in a transformation fight in what is the most visually creative scenes of the series. It must be reiterated that the characters are strong but the visuals are just as strong especially when the cinematography and lighting work perfectly in conjunction. It is a visual treat to the eyes.
One of the most intriguing characters of the show is The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook), an escaped nightmare who wishes to taste all that the world has in store. He is charming, seductive, and dangerous. Although he does not appear too much throughout the series, his presence is felt and known. Holbrook captivates as the nightmare, wanting nothing more than to survive and taste what it is like to be human. He is a dark mirror made to reflect everything will not confront but he is beguiling. An interesting mix that Holbrook toes the line between terrifying and alluring, wanting more and more of him in every scene. While he is intriguing, Dream is equally so as he adjusts to the changes around him and tries to hold onto the life he knew between a variety of worlds and beings. Sturridge shows Dream as broken, lost and without a purpose in a great performance that is not afraid to show the ruler of the Dreaming’s sensitive side. Moments when Dream shows a preview of a sinister side are intriguing but fleeting enough to evoke a fear and charm. Sturridge beat out over 200 actors for the role and it is clear why in his performance. There is a whole range of emotions conveyed in simple looks or the way he holds himself that add layers to the character. Dream and Corinthian scenes are some of the most interesting of the series and if The Sandman gets a second season, it is of high hopes these two share more scenes together. John Dee (David Thewlis) was driven mad long ago, and is on a quest for truth that may destroy the world. He shines in episode 5, reacting to the world that he wants. Honesty. In its brutal form and being so open is enthralling and it is what he wants after being broken by external forces. The unfortunate thing is Thewlis only has two episodes and the show would have worked more had he had more to do. There are monologues that Thewlis delivers that craft the pain and desperation John feels but adds a level of vulnerability and sympathy to the character.
Hob Gadling (Ferdinand Kingsley) is a great addition to the series, showing that hope can survive no matter what the circumstances and has great chemistry with Dream throughout the years they see each other. Another character that is the opposite to Dream and shows hope is Rose Walker (Vanesu Samunyai formerly known as “Kyo Ra”) who is enthralling, a source of light for the show and someone who is linked to Dream in ways she cannot escape.
The episodes are entertaining and have deep moments that are grounded rather than dreams that work in conjunction with the fantasy element. Pacing seems to be somewhat of a problem with beginnings of episodes solving problems in the first 20 minutes that could have been added to the end of the previous. There are moments that take away from the show and do not seem to fit with the story or seem to be a filler that was not needed. Sadly, that encompasses all of Johanna Constantine’s (Jenna Coleman) scenes. Meant to be a haunted necromancer and successful occult adventuress for hire, Johanna is forgettable and does not add much to the plot or story and, despite the character description, is barely seen as an adventuress for hire. If you take Johanna out of the series, nothing changes. The character is useless. A lot of the problems and obstacles for Dream are resolved fast when they could be more intriguing if they are allowed more time. The two episodes that happened, the better they were. While the show is visually stunning, it is a treat to the ear. Dream has a particularly enthralling voice and the score is beautiful but more work could have been done on Matthew (Patton Oswalt), Dreams’ trusted and talkative emissary. The voice was jarring against the rest of the series and pulled out of the otherwise immersive world.
A second season could strengthen the series especially if the focus shifts more to the Endless, particularly Desire (Mason Alexander Park) but otherwise it is a good watch with impressive visuals but pacing needs to be tweaked to be better.
MVC: Dream, he is enthralling and Sturridge does an amazing job at displaying the complexities of Dream and the circumstances. Dream is focused on the task which propels the series forward and is an intriguing character with a sensitive side that has subtly shown to influence his ominous side.