Plot: The world of The Witcher expands in this anime origin story: Before Geralt, there was his mentor Vesemir — a swashbuckling young witcher who escaped a life of poverty to slay monsters for coin. But when a strange new monster begins terrorizing a politically-fraught kingdom, Vesemir finds himself on a frightening adventure that forces him to confront the demons of his past.
Review: It should go without saying that fans of Netflix’s The Witcher are going to check out this new animated film, Nightmare of the Wolf, regardless of what critics say. The first season of the Henry Cavill fantasy series was a hit for the streaming platform which quickly announced a spin-off series along with animated films and even a fan convention that was held last month. The Witcher is a property with a solid mythology established in the novels and video games that preceded the Netflix show. Nightmare of the Wolf branches out in that universe with a tale unrelated to the exploits of Geralt of Rivia but still feels right at home thanks to sex, violence, and monsters peppering this mature animated offering.
Serving as a prequel to the Henry Cavill series, Nightmare of the Wolf centers on Vesemir (Theo James), who was briefly heard in a scene from the live-action series and will be portrayed in the upcoming second season by Kim Bodnia. Here, we are quickly introduced to the experienced Witcher as he deals with a supernatural threat that violently claims the lives of multiple people, adults, and children, in a gory opening sequence. That’s right, within two minutes of starting this movie you see torsos and limbs thrown about like confetti. It shows that just because this is an animated offering that does not mean the stakes are lower than in the live-action version.
Those who know the mythos of The Witcher know that Vesemir was Geralt’s mentor and this film shows us how the education of a young Witcher comes to be through the eyes of a vastly different individual. Theo James portrays Vesemir as a cocky and talented hunter who is, like Geralt, not afraid to spout some choice words nor bare his ass to anyone around. We get to see the relationship between Vesemir and his own mentor, Deglan (Graham McTavish) and how their relationship would eventually influence how Vesemir taught Geralt. McTavish echoes his work on the Netflix animated series Castlevania to give Deglan some swagger. He will certainly become a memorable character for fans of this franchise.
We also have a significant female presence in this film, led by Lara Pulver (Sherlock) as Tetra and Mary McDonnell as Lady Zerbst. Without revealing too much of the plot, Tetra has reasons for wanting Witchers to be banished from the land. There are dialogue-heavy moments throughout this film punctuated with some bloody action focused on all sorts of supernatural creatures that fit more in with this animated take than they would in live-action. This also marks a reunion of sorts for Lara Pulver and Theo James who co-starred in Underworld: Blood Wars together. Here, on opposite sides of the battle, they share some solid chemistry that I would love to see explored in future films.
Directed by Kwang Il Han for South Korean Studio Mir, the company responsible for The Boondocks and The Legend of Korra, The Witcher has the expected anime look and feel we have seen from many recent Netflix animated projects. But, any concerns that this would feel distinct from The Witcher live-action series are dashed right away as the score and tone are in line with Lauren Schmidt Hissrich’s series. Scripted by Beau DeMayo, who wrote the episode “Betrayer Moon” from the first season, is familiar with the workings of these characters and how they fit into the fictional world at large. It serves as a kudos to the team that this film works in conjunction with the main series and augments the story at large.
The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf works as a solid standalone introduction to the franchise for those who have not seen the main series, read the novels, or played the video games. It also works for those familiar with the show as it teases connections and characters we have seen before and lends some backstory to who Geralt of Rivia is. The animation is serviceable at best and doesn’t do much that we have not seen before, but the nice voice work from the main cast makes this an easy and quick watch. Clocking in at less than ninety minutes, you won’t feel this one dragging on too long. If anything, Nightmare of the Wolf makes a solid introduction to what I am sure will be numerous animated entries in The Witcher saga on Netflx.
The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf premieres on August 23rd on Netflix.