Review: ‘The Witcher: Blood Origin’ is a franchise non-starter with few redeeming features

The cast of 'The Witcher: Blood Origin' surrounded by mountains and green clouds
Image via Netflix

Carved in granite and molded from millions of pixels, Geralt of Rivia made legions of gaming fans happy for thousands of hours. The Witcher remains big business, helped in no small measure by Henry Cavill embodying every curmudgeonly character flaw the warm-hearted antihero could muster. Therefore, it should surprise no one that Netflix thought to expand the franchise by conjuring up a prequel entitled The Witcher: Blood Origin – which hits the streamer Christmas Day. 

Set over a thousand years before Geralt drew breath, it delves into the backstory which would ultimately lead to the creation of the first Witcher. A being forged from unholy incantations, destined to be the scourge of civilized societies, until such time as they needed something unholy dispatched.  

With a creative team lifted straight from The Witcher’s writing room in Declan De Barra, this new chapter promised an improvement on those tried and tested, not just an expansion of the playing field. However, what audiences get in the first episode is a lot of world-building as inhabitants of Xin’trea are introduced. 

Princess Merwyn (Mirren Mack), her military sibling Eredin (Jacob Collins-Levy) and uber mage Balor (Lenny Henry) are amongst them. That Eredin and Balor are conspiring to seize power, overthrow the monarchy and dominate everyone should be no surprise. Equally coincidental is their elevation of Merwyn from princess to empress following the execution of their coup.  

Beyond the copybook storylines centered around political subterfuge, some epic production design which really gives this universe depth and fierce bloodletting – The Witcher: Blood Origin is quite lackluster. Character introductions for our central protagonists are slick and inventive, bouncing between lush woodland and barren wasteland barely pausing for breath. However, originality is in short supply.  

Eile (Sophia Brown) is a member of the Raven Clan, who can carry a tune and decapitate enemies with wild abandon when needed. Fjall (Laurence O’Fuarain) is Dog Clan and barbarous beyond nature, yet banished for loving someone above his station from the kingdom of Xin’trea. Then there is the mysterious Scian (Michelle Yeoh), who trusts neither one, yet feels compelled to join them as the machinations of Eredin and Balor reap increasingly unsettling results.  

In all fairness, having the familiar face of Jaskier (Joey Batey) opening the saga offers more hope for audiences than they deserve – since he is merely a decoy. Minnie Driver may give this prequel some star power in the character acting department, but even her dulcet tones of narration cease to sell this prequel as little more than a stop gap between seasons of The Witcher.       

Even after three episodes, which finds our central group almost coming together, Blood Origin has failed to scale the heights of its predecessor. However, with Francesca Mills cutting a swathe through numerous foes as Meldof, cleaving enemies in twine with her weapon of choice – it has some high points. Combined with Brother Death (Huw Novelli), who more than lives up to his name as he too meters out death and judgement – graphic decapitations often become too many to measure.  

It may be true that there are various Easter Eggs scattered through the show, but its quest-based structure and appalling creature effects, which genuinely look superimposed in places, hamper the quality somewhat. In terms of performance, The Witcher: Blood Origin is quite a mixed bag to boot, which unfortunately impacts on the show as a whole.  

Despite the acting chops of Henry (which stretches back to his stints on British television in comedy and drama) as Balor, he feels surprisingly miscast. Whether that comes down to the dialogue on offer, which at times might be considered ropey, or some of the less than adequate visual affects he’s tasked to interact with. Whatever the reasons behind that sense of niggling doubt which plagues his time onscreen, there is no escaping the fact he fails to carry it off.  

On the flip-side of that, Yeoh is completely wasted as Scian and given precious little to work with. This is an Asian cinema legend known for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the epic Everything Everywhere All at Once, not to mention numerous collaborations with Jackie Chan and countless other cinematic supremos, which number too many to mention. All of which begs the question; what exactly possessed her to sign up, aside from assurances from Netflix that this would be a home run?

Unfortunately, The Witcher: Blood Origin is all sorts of ordinary, and never really delivers on the promise that Cavill teed up in his first two seasons. In response to this learning curve of a prequel, Netflix would be better off just quietly sweeping this under the carpet and walking away.  

Review: 'The Witcher: Blood Origin' is a franchise non-starter with few redeeming features
Fair

Lackluster, unoriginal and carried through on the promise of better things - 'The Witcher: Blood Origin' is a mediocre affair. Michelle Yeoh is wasted, Lenny Henry lacks conviction, and Minnie Driver gives some great narration. Best avoided.