‘Marco Polo’ (sometimes) entertains and educates
By Cazzy Lewchuk, Staff Writer
Netflix portrays a wide range of shows, from the prison dramady Orange is the New Black to the political thriller House of Cards. The streaming service has continued creating captivating shows with its latest, a historical drama called Marco Polo.
The series is set in Mongolia in the year 1273, shortly after Genghis Khan’s reign over much of Asia. His malicious grandson Kublai Khan (Benedict Wong) rules a majority of the continent, in a performance memorable enough that he may possibly be the most entertaining part of the show. Italian merchant traveller Marco Polo (Lorenzo Richelmy) is given by his father to Khan in exchange for the rest of the travellers’ freedom after their party is captured. The show follows his training and adventures throughout the Mongolian empire, with no shortage of war and betrayal.
There are plenty of graphic (although not super explicit) portrayals of sex and violence—the very first scene features a massacred village full of impaled citizens. The first two episodes feature sword fights, brothels, and dozens of bodies. It’s a bit like Game of Thrones, except (mostly) a true story and with a primarily Asian cast and environment.
The visuals are perhaps the most entertaining part of Marco Polo. Filmed on a $90-million budget for 10 episodes, there’s plenty of exploration of the Mongolian scenery. There is, of course, plenty of period dress and armour. Even the shots are quite memorable—one particular scene in episode two features a 360-degree long shot for a sword fight across the desert as hundreds of soldiers watch.
Although the plot itself is a bit tedious and almost boring in parts, Marco Polo is an exciting watch for anyone who enjoys historical fiction and/or shows like Game of Thrones or Rome. The setting and true context of the plot make it fun to watch for the educational aspect, as it’s a neat way to learn about a faraway country from long ago. It’s almost a completely different world from ours but still grounded in reality, which translates to entertainment.
Another drawback of the show is the characters. With the exception of Khan, most of them have little depth and are almost boring. It’s hard to get involved in the storyline when you’re not quite sure who’s who or why you should care about what they’re engaged in.
Nevertheless, it’s an exciting show to watch (perhaps in a binge period) on Netflix, especially if you care more about the sword fights and sex than the actual historical context or storyline of a series. It’s an impressive and promising achievement for Netflix, and shows that the streaming service is capable of creating original series from a wide variety of genres and spectacles.