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Shadow and Bone season 2 review: hit Netflix fantasy show’s return is a magic-fuelled mishmash
11:32 am | March 16, 2023

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Shadow and Bone season 2: key information

- Launches on Thursday, March 16
- All eight episodes drop on the same date
- Based on Leigh Bardugo's fantasy book series
- Created by Eric Heisserer
- Stars Jessie Mei Li, Ben Barnes, and Archie Renaux among others
- Picks up two weeks after the season 1 finale

Minor spoilers follow for Shadow and Bone season 2. 

Shadow and Bone seems perfectly placed to become Netflix’s new flagship fantasy TV series. With the diminishing popularity of The Witcher and the cancellation of fan-favorite shows like Warrior Nun, Netflix needs a new fantasy champion. Shadow and Bone, then, could be the savior it’s looking for.

Unfortunately, Shadow and Bone season 2 doesn’t do enough to suggest it’s on track to take on that mantle. Unlike Shadow and Bone’s first season, this isn’t a wholly faithful adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling books, with some baffling creative decisions cramping its style. There’s a lot to like about the show’s latest entry, but its positives are nullified in such a way that it’s not as spellbinding as it could be. 

Light and shade

Alina uses her sun summoning powers as Mal watches on in Shadow and Bone season 2

Alina and Mal are back for Shadow and Bone season 2. (Image credit: Netflix)

Shadow and Bone season 2 picks up two weeks after the first season’s finale. Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) and Mal Oretsov (Archie Renaux) continue their quest to locate more amplifiers to boost Alina’s Sun Summoning powers, destroy The Fold, and stop General Kirigan/The Darkling (Ben Barnes) for good. Meanwhile, Kirigan, who survived the Volcra’s attack in The Fold, tends to his wounds as he concocts a new plan to laud it over the Grishaverse.

After aiding Alina in the fight against Kirigan, The Crows – led by Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter) – return to Ketterdam. However, rival gang leader Pekka Rollins (Dean Lennox Kelly) has seized their establishments and framed them for crimes they didn’t commit. Add Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan), who seeks The Crows’ help in breaking her partner Matthias (Calahan Skogman) out of Hellgate prison, into the mix, and Brekker and company have plenty to deal with.

Like Shadow and Bone season 1, the show’s latest installment divides its time between two primary narratives. Well, initially at least. Alina and The Crows’ storylines are the main focus of Shadow and Bone season 2, but it’s the branching out into subplots, side quests, and other narrative offshoots that distinguish this season from what came before. 

Wildly different personas collide with a satisfying regularity throughout

Broken into its constituent parts, the show’s second season centers on five storylines. That quintet comprises Alina and Mal’s journey, Matthias’ imprisonment in Hellgate, Kirigan’s burgeoning masterplan, and two concerning The Crows. Of the latter duo, the first is a chaotically-assembled, brand-new tale that sees Brekker and co take on Rollins’ criminal empire. The second Crows-centric plot – one that draws them back into Alina and Kirigan’s orbits – is a far more entertaining and suspenseful spectacle. 

The Crows, Wylan, and Nina look out at a prison under the cover of dark in Shadow and Bone season 2

The Crows get two story arcs in the show's second season. (Image credit: Netflix)

Regardless, Shadow and Bone season 2 flits between its plots with a pleasing fluidity, competently expanding on the size and scope of season 1 through its examination of the Grishaverse’s history and useful lore, new locations, and character introductions (more on these later).

However, one of Shadow and Bone 2’s main problems is how much time it dedicates to each storyline. Understandably, it’s weighted in favor of Alina’s story – she’s the series’ main protagonist and its hero, so her journey takes precedence over The Crows’, Kirigan’s, and Matthias’. Even so, Kirigan’s season 2 story arc – outside of crossing over with Alina’s, initially in a dreamscape manner akin to the Force Dyad bond seen in Star Wars' sequel film trilogy – is thematically dense and captivating enough to deserve more screen time. 

Matthias’ Hellgate-based story is even less developed and, in some respects, an unnecessary inclusion. Ironically, its plot starts to get interesting later in the season, when a certain individual is locked up alongside everyone’s favorite Fjerdan. But, while this story belatedly bubbles away with intrigue, events that follow only act as vexing teases for what’s to come in a potential third season.

It’s General Kirigan and Kaz Brekker’s individual character arcs that are examined most closely, and in tantalizing detail

Equally, the transition between some scenes occurs in a way that oversimplifies specific plot points, even if they help the season proceed at a satisfying pace. One example, which sees Mal and Alina separated in episode 4 for reasons I won’t spoil, leads to their reunion in episode 5 in baffling circumstances, with Mal explaining his absence with a reductive throwaway line. Moments like these detract from the drama and tension that Shadow and Bone 2 tries to tee up, serving as nothing more than eye-twitching irritations.

A scarred General Kirigan looks upset in Shadow and Bone season 2

Season 2 should have leaned more into Kirigan and Alina's verbal dreamscape-style skirmishes. (Image credit: David Lukacs/Netflix)

Those issues are small fry, though, compared to the bewildering narrative deviations Shadow and Bone season 2 takes from its source material. Showrunner Eric Heisserer forewarned diehard fans that the show’s next installment would pull from three novels – Siege & Storm, Ruin & Rising, and Six of Crows – to tell its tales. Longtime fans, then, weren’t expecting season 2 to be a beat-for-beat retread of the book series’ storylines.

Even so, nothing prepared me for how radically different Shadow and Bone season 2 is from the novels. Again, this is a largely spoiler-free zone, but I was surprised – even frustrated at times – at the direction of certain narratives and plot points, including how season 2 ends. These big and arguably redundant changes are sure to irritate and even upset fans of Bardugo’s novels. 

Given the outcry over The Witcher season 2’s narrative deviations, plus those rumored to appear in The Witcher season 3, I would have expected Netflix and Shadow and Bone’s creative team to approach things differently here. Okay, diverging from the books’ plot-beats gives long-time fans something new to engage with, and brings a sense of originality to proceedings, just like season 1 did. However, I can’t help but view these changes – especially in the season 2 finale, which drags its heels in how much it sets up for the show’s likely third season – as unwarranted alterations that many fans will take exception to.

Grisha growth and alluring additions 

Nikolai Lantsov puts his hands on a table as he look as someone off camera in Shadow and Bone season 2

Nikolai Lantsov is a pleasing addition to Shadow and Bone's TV ranks. (Image credit: David Lukacs/Netflix)

Refreshingly, Shadow and Bone season 2’s predilection for thematic exploration and character development – for new and returning characters – blesses it with some truly engrossing content.

For one, Alina and Mal’s relationship runs the full gamut of emotions. Initially, there’s a tender awkwardness to the pair’s burgeoning romance, a sweet but sickly teenage-like love that’s unwavering no matter what’s thrown at them. Eventually, world-shattering challenges present themselves that put the duo’s bond to the ultimate test, which serves to exponentially ramp the tension up.

Vital as it is to explore Alina and Mal’s dynamic, it’s Kirigan and Brekker’s individual character arcs that are examined most closely, and in tantalizing detail.

In Kirigan’s case, Shadow and Bone 2 trains a lens on the physical and psychological pain inflicted upon him by Alina and company, as well as further examining the loneliness that pains him after centuries of existence. Despite the evident darkness within him, the sequel season’s exploration of his humanity is moving. His trauma, though largely self-inflicted, is similarly relatable, and speaks to the fallibility that every Shadow and Bone character is imbued with. 

Kaz and Inej share a moment in a dimly lit room in Shadow and Bone season 2

Kaz Brekker's PTSD and trauma is explored extensively in season 2. (Image credit: Timea Saghy/Netflix)

Speaking of trauma, Brekker’s mental and emotional anguish is explored through flashback sequences, which directly impact the errant decisions he makes – choices that inevitably drive a wedge between him as his closest confidants, Inej (Anita Suman) and Jesper (Kit Young). Brekker’s mix of anger and pride over his past creates a fascinating fraying of tensions between the trio and anyone else caught up in their escapades, particularly in the first of the Crows’ season 2 storylines. Plot-wise, The Crows versus Rollins’ gang is a messy affair. As a character study or wider examination of the fragility of relationships, though, it rises above its season 2 peers.

Another welcome aspect is the addition of fan-favorite characters from the books, who are given plenty of scenery to chew as the season progresses. 

Nikolai Lantsov, the swashbuckling Ravkan Prince-turned-Privateer who becomes one of Alina and Mal’s most trusted allies, is portrayed with panache, charisma, and emotional intelligence by Patrick Gibson (Tolkien). Even in his introductory scene, where Lantsov – who also goes by the alias Sturmhond – is seemingly positioned as an antagonist, Gibson’s likeability makes it hard not to immediately warm to him.

Nothing prepared me for how radically different Shadow and Bone season 2 is from the novels

The inclusion of twins Tolya Yul-Bataar (Lewis Tan) and Tamar Kir-Bataar (Anna Leong Brophy), Lantsov’s lieutenants, also brings a fun-fuelled sibling rivalry and unique characterization to the table. Add the shy but no-less-charming demolition expert Wylan Hendriks (Jack Wolfe) – who joins The Crows and Nina – into the equation, and Shadow and Bone season 2 is emboldened by its new arrivals. The manner of their character introductions feels seamless, too, helping each to feel a natural part of the Grishaverse. As such, there’s no need for any MacGuffin-style storytelling to insert them into their respective plots.

Tolya and Tamar wield their weapons as they look at something off camera in Shadow and Bone season 2

Tolya and Tamar add humor, heart, and bad-assery in equal measure to proceedings. (Image credit: David Lukacs/Netflix)

With a potent new collection of supporting characters, plus the return of other favorites, such as Genya (Daisy Head), Zoya (Sujaya Dasgupta), David (Luke Pasqualino), and Baghra (Zoe Wanamaker), there's the potential for season 2 crafts new, interesting, and fun team-ups that'll pique viewers' curiosity.

Shadow and Bone season 2 emphatically delivers on that front. Wildly different personas collide with a satisfying regularity throughout, with each new relationship supplying humor, tenderness, and melodrama in spades. Each dynamic feels novel and unforced, regardless of how season 2’s multiple storylines weave in and out of one another. The culmination of these mash-ups is a thrilling, high-octane, and crowd-pleasing crescendo that unfolds in the season’s climactic battle – occurring in episode 7, not episode 8 – and pays dividends on the new relationships built across each episode. If nothing else, it makes up for the somewhat predictable nature of episode 7’s (and the season’s) multifaceted showdown – one that, like the other battles in season 2, is at once both enjoyable and trite.

My verdict

Shadow and Bone season 2 is a two-headed beast. On the one hand, it’s a gripping, spookier, and darker entry in the series, with its character studies and rich themes cementing its position as one of the best Netflix shows around. On the other, it’s a narratively inconsistent installment that, while absorbing and shocking in some areas, perplexingly substitutes elements of its source material for story beats that will only displease the fans of the novels. Contextually, the manner in which season 2 kicks off means that some viewers will be best served by rewatching the season 1 finale in order to reacquaint themselves with where the show left off.

More casual viewers will likely find Shadow and Bone season 2 to be an enjoyable experience. For me, though, it doesn’t quite stick the superpowered, magic, and Small Science-infused landing. I’m sure other members of Shadow and Bone’s ardent fanbase will perceive similar faults with its storytelling approach, or with other aspects of its eight-episode run. Fundamentally, these issues weigh Shadow and Bone 2 down and, unless it rectifies such glaring errors in future seasons, it will fall short of achieving the lofty position of the best Netflix fantasy series.

Shadow and Bone season 2 launches in full on Netflix on Thursday, March 16.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania review – Kang rules a messy Marvel caper
8:00 pm | February 14, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets | Tags: , | Comments: Off
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania: key info

- Arrives in theaters on February 17
- Third movie in Ant-Man's film series
- First project in Marvel's Phase 5 slate
- Written by Jeff Loveness
- Directed by Peyton Reed
- Stars Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, and Jonathan Majors among others

Ant-Man and its sequel – Ant-Man and the Wasp – both served as fairly low-stakes, largely standalone stories in the interconnected Marvel universe. For fans watching every Marvel movie in order, these fun heist films acted like palate cleansers amid the sweeping, universe-shaking storylines playing out across its siblings. For Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) newcomers, they work just fine on their own, too.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is the opposite. The first Marvel Phase 5 movie hinges on viewers having watched the other two Ant-Man films (at the very least). Equally, it's tasked with setting up the conflict between the MCU's superheroes and the next multi-film big bad, aka Kang the Conqueror, played with outstanding pathos here by Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country).

As the opening act to a bigger story, Quantumania feels suitably interesting. It's a sweeping sci-fi epic in a bizarre alien world rather than a low-key heist, which sets up Majors’ Kang as a force to be reckoned with. However, as a singular entity, it feels somewhat overloaded, with main characters and their personal arcs lost among a wave of CGI, and a performance by Majors that runs circles around his scene partners. 

Small heroes, big villain

Kang speaks to an off-screen Scott Lang in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Kang's second appearance in the MCU is an even stronger setup for the over-arching villain he'll be. (Image credit: Marvel)

Ant-Man 3's plot follows three generations of size-changing superheroes: Paul Rudd's Scott Lang/Ant-Man, Evangeline Lily's Hope Van Dyne/Wasp, Michael Douglas' Hank Pym, and Michelle Pfeiffer's Janet Van Dyne all returning from the diminutive hero's first two outings. The quartet are joined by Kathryn Newton as Cassie Lang, Scott’s teenage daughter who, without spoiling too much, adopts her own superhero pseudonym during the course of the flick. Chaos ensues when all five are sucked into the subatomic Quantum Realm, where they grapple with Majors’ Kang, a technologically advanced multiversal warlord. 

The heart of the film should be Scott’s changing relationship with Cassie – they begin the film butting heads over her idealistic activism – and theirs is the main emotional throughline. However, the real center of the movie is Majors – and Marvel’s big drive to orbit the next slate of movies around him starts here. 

The execution isn’t up to the bar set by the likes of Avatar: The Way of Water

Kang dominates every scene he’s in, every inch the reluctant conqueror. Gravitas oozes out of him whether he’s lying in the dirt having lost his way or sprawled upon his Time Chair throne. Without spoiling much, if he continues to deliver on this promise of a multifaceted, multi-film performance, it will cement Majors as one of the all-time great supervillain actors by the time he’s done fighting the Avengers.

Scott Lang stares at an off-camera Kang in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Scott Lang's third solo movie is lacking in charm. (Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Rudd and Lily, on the other hand, don’t seem to be having quite as much fun acting against CGI monsters and backgrounds. I’m reminded a little of those behind-the-scenes videos of the Star Wars prequels, where actors can be seen gamely doing their best in a void. Neither seems to be able to summon up much emotion once they get to the Quantum Realm and the action beats kick in. There are some occasionally touching scenes between Cassie, Scott, and Hope, but some of the film’s best acting is done when Pfeiffer and Majors get to act up a storm one-on-one, or when the core five are sat around the family dinner table. It was the personal, emotion-driven stakes that made the first two Ant-Man films so appealing. It's a pity this aspect of the franchise, then, is relegated here.

Everyone else does well with the material they’re given, but there will be no Oscar buzz around Quantumania’s acting in the same way there was around Angela Bassett in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Kathryn Newton is convincingly earnest as Cassie Lang, elevating the character's role in the MCU and potentially acting as a step towards a Young Avengers movie. David Dastmalchian is back in a new voice role as ooze-based Quantum Realm denizen Veb, Corey Stoll returns as MODOK (more on him shortly), and Douglas is still enjoyable as Pym's sarcastic size-changing inventor. Bill Murray has a small role but, like all his most recent performances, he largely plays himself, which is a tad immersion-breaking.

Larger than life

Scott and Cassie Lang are approached by some Quantum Realm armed personnel in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Quantumania takes the series from San Francisco city to something you'd likely see in Thor or Guardians of the Galaxy. (Image credit: Marvel Studios)

As for the Quantum Realm, it's a swirling CGI environment with a wide variety of bizarre biomes, from lush mushroom forests to Mad Max-inspired caravan trains across desert flats, and the almost-obligatory cantina scene ripped straight from Star Wars: A New Hope. At its best, Ant-Man 3's primary locale is a gorgeous backdrop to a bit of Kang-driven character drama, and its inventiveness in design bleeds over to the weird and wonderful creatures that inhabit each section of the realm. 

Kang dominates every scene he’s in, every inch the reluctant conqueror

Even the wildest original designs, though, can’t compare to the sheer giddiness I felt at seeing the legendary Marvel villain MODOK onscreen in all his glory. A giant head with tiny arms and legs in a floating hover-chair, the MCU is at a point in its life where even the wackiest comic-book designs can be ripped from the pages with few alterations – and MODOK is one of the silliest, most disgusting, outright hilarious looks in all the Marvel multiverse. I love that big head with all my heart, and Peyton Reed and Kevin Feige came through for me. The way the story brought him into the fold was a smart move, even if it does differ from the source material. I never thought I would see MODOK’s naked little baby butt, either, but here we are.

As fun as the designs may be, the execution isn’t up to the bar set by the likes of Avatar: The Way of Water. When the cast interact with an alien beast, for example, the physics are nowhere near as convincing as that viral hand shot in Avatar: Way of Water's first trailer, and the pitched battles are more reminiscent of the confusing mess of Aquaman than the sweeping conflicts in Lord of the Rings. The direction during those fight scenes was competent, almost workmanlike, and not enough to prevent my attention wandering. At least the size-changing effects are neat and there are a couple of sequences focused around the different uses of that power that are pleasantly inventive. 

Dawn of a new phase

Janet van Dyne looks out onto the Quantum Realm in Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania

Surprising absolutely nobody, Michelle Pfeiffer has some great scenes with Jonathan Majors. (Image credit: Marvel)

As a solo Ant-Man movie, Quantumania doesn’t work as well as the first two. It’s a middling comic-book adventure romp focused around exploring this new realm – something I might have expected out of the forthcoming Fantastic Four film. But, despite taking us to strange new places in a physical sense, the characters are largely static. None of them really advance or evolve enough to make their arcs compelling, which might be down to splitting the cast up early in proceedings to give equal weight to each narrative.

It does work well, though, as a franchise-builder. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is a fitting introduction to 2025’s Avengers: The Kang Dynasty, and it tees up Cassie Lang to take her role as Stature in, well, whatever awaits her next. In the comics, she's been a part of Young Avengers alongside new Hawkeye Kate Bishop, the Captain America analog Patriot, America Chavez, and Scarlet Witch’s children – all of whom have now been introduced in the MCU. Although no Young Avengers project has been announced, it would be naive to think this isn’t the plan, as Chris Hemsworth and Benedict Cumberbatch won’t be under contract forever.

Despite some unconvincing effects work and suffering from future-film-setup-syndrome, this is a fun but flawed opener for the next phase of Marvel movies. It’s got enough going for it that dedicated MCU fans will likely enjoy it anyway. In an era where diehard Marvel fans and general cinephiles have questioned the direction Marvel Phase 4 went (and where its next projects are going from story perspectives), though, Ant-Man 3 isn't the triumphant, gi-ant sized flick many will have hoped for.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania lands in theaters worldwide on Friday, February 17.