The Wolf and The Deer
The Fourth Step
The Scholar’s Pen
The Heavenly and Primal
There’s no denying that Marco Polo’s gorgeous cinematography and keen eye for visuals make it a very good looking series. The sweeping vistas of 13th century Mongolia are breathtakingly beautiful and really help with feeling like you’ve transported to that time period. Its a shame then that Marco Polo suffers from lacklustre acting and a sluggish pace which ultimately makes this a good, but also flawed, series to watch.
The story follows the exploits of the Mongolian Army, led by the ruthless Kublai Khan (Benedict Wong), as he wrestles for power against the Chinese army. Caught up in the middle of this is explorer Marco Polo (Lorenzo Richelmy), who becomes entangled in the court of Kublai Khan and consequently, part of the conflict between the Chinese and Mongolians. The story dances elegantly between both factions, showing the contrasting point of views of both although it is a little difficult to follow at times as it veers off to show multiple different characters. Although the series starts slowly, it does eventually gain some momentum before an excellent finale that makes the wait until that point, worth it.
The character of Marco Polo himself is one that actually sits in the shadow for vast periods of the first half of the season. Its certainly a bold choice, given the assumption that the show would be based on the explorer, but it works well in the context of the conflict at play here. The various subplots are intricately woven through the main conflict although it can sometimes be difficult to follow these as the story jumps relentlessly from the Chinese to the Mongols and back again. All of this wouldn’t be a problem but the series moves at such a sluggish pace it lacks tension at key moments that’s only alleviated deep into the first season. A lot of the issues inherent with Marco Polo are rectified as the season progresses and the suffocatingly slow pace eventually lets up and allow for a more enjoyable experience.
Aesthetically, Marco Polo is outstanding. The sweeping vistas of the barren landscape, the hypnotically engaging use of colour, especially during night scenes, and the excellent composition all come together to make Marco Polo an artistic, competently made series. The way these work harmoniously really is a joy to see. For all the positives inherent with the direction and visual design of the show, Marco Polo’s aesthetics juxtapose with the acting which oftentimes feels stiff and contrived. Its a shame too because the script oozes some poetic charm but the awkward pauses and unnatural exchanges lack the power and conviction needed to pull off some of the more tense scenes.
Marco Polo’s setting, visuals and plot are exemplary, enhanced by a great use of colour and well choreographed action scenes that really add to the production value of the show. The dialogue, script and slow pace do hold this season back from being as endearing a watch as it so easily could have been though. Its not a deal breaker, but it does make the middle portion of this season unnecessarily difficult to sit through given the pace the show adopts. If you can look past that, Marco Polo is a great historical drama that embellishes the time period perfectly. You really get a feeling you’re transported to 13th Century Mongolia and Marco Polo is all the more stronger for it. Aside from a few niggling issues, Marco Polo is a solid season that sets the stage up nicely for its inevitable second season that will hopefully right the wrongs that hold this show back.