Netflix The Sandman Review - a mesmerizing adaptation that comes razor close to being a perfect one

Who had "The Sandman ends up amazing" on their pop culture bingo card this year? Certainly not me. You know how it is with nameless corporations and soulless cash grabs. But after years of bouncing around peoples' plates, Neil Gaiman's seminal work The Sandman finally arrives on Netflix as a 10-episode series.

With Gaiman appropriately taking a hands-on approach as series creator and producer together with David S. Goyer and Allan Heinberg, there was some hope that it would come out, at the very least, passably good. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine we would get a tight 10-episode TV series that masterfully navigates, with mortal tools, the immortal mythos of Gaiman's 1989 magnum opus.

In 1916, after botching a summoning meant to imprison the personification of Death itself, occultist Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance) instead imprisons the King of Dreams, Morpheus (Tom Sturridge). After a century of captivity, Morpheus makes his escape only to find that his kingdom, The Dreaming, is in disarray. And since he's the personification of dreams, his absence endangers the real world as well. His only hope of stopping the chaos is by retrieving his royal symbols stolen from him during his imprisonment: his helm, his ruby, and his pouch of sand.

What follows is a captivating jaunt into the The Sandman world, with an exciting cast of characters and some scenes and dialogue lifted whole cloth from the comic itself. Taking the comic's "un-adaptable" reputation as a suggestion than a challenge, the series understands that there's a lot of stuff in the source material that just won't fly in the year of our lord 2022, and so it sifts through all that surreal art and Gaiman's admittedly edgy prose to find the heart of the stories that viewers will resonate with.

A show of this nature lives and dies on its eponymous lead, but it's safe to say that Tom Sturridge as Morpheus is inspired casting. He effortlessly embodies the unknowable nature of Morpheus, regal and caring one moment, ethereal and vindictive the next, all with the low-timbre hoarseness I imagined Dream's word bubbles in the comics (black and messy instead of the usual white and round) would sound.

A lot of controversy preceded The Sandman, in particular with changing the genders and race of some key characters. But to go deeper into these complaints would validate ramblings that have no business having an audience in the first place. In any case, a lot of the changes work. Kirby Howell-Baptiste nails Death's ethereal kindness, and Jenna Coleman is more approachable as a Johanna than a John Constantine. There is a case of being too safe, though, and as much as these two actors do their best to elevate the writing, it doesn't really reach the potential it should have.

Because The Sandman series succeeds when it embraces its fantastic premise, but falters when it lets go. The first half of the season adapts the first eight issues of the comic book, and it's here where the series shines the brightest. From the dreamlike drama of "Sleep of the Just" to the unsettling horror of "24/7", you really feel like watching the comic book come to life. But the second half's more grounded stories (adapting "The Doll's House" storyline) drags Morpheus and co. into CW territory and makes them feel fake, lifeless. Take, for example, Boyd Holbrook as The Corinthian, a side character in the comics given a bigger role in the series. He is a hoot to watch, his sinister presence permeating all throughout the season, but he loses much of his charm in the last few episodes, much like Morpheus does, once they leave the realm of the impossible to do battle in some hotel convention center.

But even those faults don't diminish what this show achieved: to use the modern world's sensibilities to prove why Neil Gaiman's The Sandman is ageless and timeless. It's safe to say that for The Sandman fans and soon-to-be ones, their dream came true.

The Sandman is now streaming on Netflix.

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