Review: Netflix’s Castlevania Stuns With Graphic Flair and Flawless Cast
The following review contains spoilers for Netflix’s Castlevania season 1.
Coming in at the length of a short movie, Netflix’s Castlevania, is being hailed by many as bringing in a new age of video game adaptations, and for me, the only downside is that there just wasn’t enough of it. With only four episodes and each of those episodes averaging about 23 minutes, we’ve only just scratched the surface of Trevor Belmont’s story. Indeed, just as the story starts to kick into gear, we are forced to wait until season two. And although I really enjoyed this jaunt into more Dracula mythology and Wallachia, there just wasn’t enough.
In the opening episode we learn about Dracula’s origin within Wallachia, specifically, voiced by a charismatic and vicious Graham McTavish, we see Dracula fall in love with a scientist named Lisa, who he then marries. To Vlad, she is the best that humanity can offer and the only thing redeemable about the whole species. Unfortunately, Lisa is accused of witchcraft by an evil bishop and burned at the stake. Wallachia has become corrupt with religious power and the bishop is seemingly at the core of it. Killing Lisa reveals the worst side of Dracula, and despite his son Alucard’s plea to go after the bishop, he’s ready to blame and punish all humans. He warns the people to
Killing Lisa unearths the worst side of Dracula, and despite his son Alucard’s plea to go after the bishop, he’s ready to blame and punish all humans. He warns the people to flee from his lands and gives them one year. No one listens, in fact, a year later on the day of Lisa’s death, they hold a celebration. Dracula spares no mercy and calls up demons from hell and begins to exact his blood-soaked revenge.
As Dracula’s demons ravage the land, the citizens blame aristocratic families and those who practice magic. Our hero, Trevor Belmont, is from one such family. Impeccably casted, Richard Armitage lends his velvety timbre and dry scarcastic tone to Trevor, who looks one part JRPG hero and another part Jon Snow. He’s the classic reluctant hero, physically capable, morally tough, but emotionally fragile. We watch him easily deal with thugs and guards, and then he saves the life of the leader of the Speakers.
Speakers land somewhere between nomadic magicians, monks, and the Peace Corps. They are another scapegoat for the locals of Gresit to blame for the attacks of Dracula’s demons. I would blame Dracula, but hey, that’s just logic. Trevor makes a deal with the leader, voiced by Stargate alum Tony Amendola, wherein he will go and seek out the leader’s grandchild and in exchange, the Speakers will leave the town before the people turn on them.
Descending into the catacombs of Gresit, Trevor encounters Sypha Belnades, the granddaughter of the leader of the Speakers. Voiced by Alejandra Reynoso of Winx Club fame — a show, I’m not ashamed to say, I’ve watched more than once unironically — Sypha is a powerful magic user and, unlike Trevor, believes firmly in the urban legend that says beneath Gresit lays a “sleeping soldier” that will protect them.
The Speakers do not want to leave Gresit in its time of need, despite knowing that a mob is coming to kill them and blame them for the demons. Unwilling to let the Speakers simply be killed, Trevor forces them to go hide in the catacombs while he deals with the mob and the guards as night falls. The demons come down and come into the church where the bishop is and tells him, much to my satisfaction, that this is all his fault and that the demons would not exist without him and then kill him.
Still running from the mob and guards, Trevor is cornered by the masses but he is saved by Sypha, who displays her magical prowess. This gives Trevor an opportunity to speak to the people and turn the mob on the priests by vindicating the Speakers and revealing the bishop’s actions in killing Lisa. Unsurprisingly, mob mentality takes over and the townspeople turn on the priest/guards. With the people on his side, Trevor and Sypha battle the demons with the townspeople’s aid. In the process, they fall through the ground and into the catacombs.
Here, they meet Sypha’s “sleeping soldier,” who Trevor recognizes to be a vampire. The two fight, with Trevor assuming he could be Dracula because of the design of the catacombs with its mechanical elements and electrical lights. After going toe-to-toe with each other, the soldier reveals himself to be Adrian Tepes, aka Alucard, aka the son of Dracula. Voiced by none other than Gaius Baltar himself, James Callis is only around for a brief moment in the season compared to Reynoso and Armitage. But we’ll be seeing more of him in the second season as Alucard reveals that he’s is determined to defeat his father for his mother and to do so he needs a scholar and a hunter. The season ends with the trio united and the fate of Gresit still unknown.
As far as plots go, Castlevania isn’t winning any awards for originality. It’s a formulaic and predictable plot with archetypal characters, but that’s not where the strength of Castlevania lies. The strength of the adaptation lies heavily in the art of the animation. Bloody, graceful, and vivid, the art of Castlevania is heavily influenced by Japanese animation styles and it does the show every favor. Action scenes like Trevor’s whip fight with Alucard, or Sypha’s magical casting, or Dracula’s vengeful fire form demonstrate the potential of the show.
Another strength of this adaptation is its characters. Although they’re typical, the chemistry between them is undeniable. The voice cast is gilded by Armitage’s snarky delivery and Trevor’s tall, dark, and heroic character. It’s genuinely exciting to watch the show, and it makes for a great video game adaptation. Ultimately, four episodes are hardly enough for the first season of Castlevania and that’s our only real complaint. Thankfully, the next season will be doubling that with eight episodes, and hopefully, give us more of what we love.