LONDON: For decades, Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” epic has been one of the go-to examples of why comic books should be acknowledged as much, much more than outlandish adventures starring superheroes bedecked in garish spandex.
Despite this (or perhaps because of it), bringing the sprawling saga to the screen — big or small — has been a tortuous process, with countless iterations promising much before, inevitably, falling by the wayside.
So Netflix deserves some credit for the mere existence of “The Sandman” — a 10-part series developed by Gaiman, David S Goyer and Allan Heinberg and starring British actor Tom Sturridge as Morpheus, the lord of dreams and nightmares. When Morpheus is captured by an occultist and held prisoner for more than 100 years, his kingdom (the Dreaming) falls into ruin, with the balance between dreams and nightmares lost, and rogue entities blurring the lines between the waking world and the fantastical nature of human imagination. After escaping, Morpheus must regain his throne and restore the balance before irreversible damage is done.
“The Sandman” boasts an incredible ensemble cast, with star turns across the board. Jenna Coleman, Stephen Fry, Charles Dance, Patton Oswald, Joely Richardson and Boyd Holbrook are particularly enjoyable, while David Thewlis puts in a staggeringly unsettling performance as one of the many threats Morpheus must prevent from rending the human world asunder.
Props, too, to Sturridge for not buckling under the weight of such a momentous character — one beloved by decades of readers. While his performance, at times, relies on such intense whispering as to almost be shouting, Sturridge makes Morpheus a believably fallible protagonist, and a charismatic guide through Gaiman’s fantastically vivid world.
“The Sandman” is many things — fantastical, dark, malevolent, violent, shocking, horrifying and heartwarming — and often several of those at the same time. Weaving such a fanciful tapestry is no mean task, especially in a genre about to get a lot busier with new “Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones” series on the way.
“The Sandman” does more than hold its own, however, and while there may be some fans unhappy at some of the tweaks made between page and screen, this remains epic, dazzling, complicated fantasy.