Netflix’s Marco Polo: A Thrilling Disappointment?

Marco Polo thrills with the experience of transporting the viewer back through time, but where it excels in the theatrical it disappoints in focus. For a show named Marco Polo, one might think that the show would be mostly about the great adventurer, but that is simply not the case.

If you haven’t watched the show, there are spoilers a head.

Since he was a young boy, Marco Polo, played by Lorenzo Richelmy, longed to be an adventurer like his father. When he finally gets his chance, he his betrayed by his father and left behind as a tribute/prisoner to Kublai Khan. Marco quickly proves himself useful, though, and the khan takes advantage of the young man’s gift for languages and cleverness. Marco is trained as a Mongolian; how to ride and shoot, how to fight with a sword and trained in Kung Fu. He seems to take this in stride, (I’m not certain if this is bad characterization, or if Polo is truly that adaptable,) but he quickly learns and comes to respect his new way of life. Because of the mercy that the khan shows on numerous occasions, Polo comes to respect him and like everyone else who circles around this great man, Polo yearns for the khan’s approval.

And Kublai Khan played by, Benedict Wong, is magnanimous. When the show begins, you are prepared to hate the man (he is Polo’s captor after all,) but what you find is a leader conflicted by what is right for his kingdom. After a few episodes, you realize that this is a man who truly seems to care for the people who serve him, he is a family man, and he desires to learn about different cultures and religions. Compared to this strong, powerful Mongolian, why would anyone bother to look at the outsider, this Italian merchant that everyone calls, “The Latin?”

This is a question that we are still asking ourselves after the end of the first season. Why is Marco Polo so important? He does pale in comparison to the characters around him. His ability to assimilate so quickly to the culture is remarkable and perhaps that is what makes Marco Polo unique, but next to the great khan he is really just a boy seeking approval from another father figure.

But why wouldn’t Marco like this new way of life? Almost every woman we see in the show is a whore, or gives it away easily, with no thought of repercussion. Granted, this is not Europe, who were considerably more prude during the thirteenth century, but the scenes of naked women in whore houses, and in the khan’s bedroom, seem to be more about drawing in viewers than about anything remotely sexy.

Polo’s main love interest is the Blue Princess, and you might think, here is where we will see some real romance. Yet, the reason for their attraction for one another is lost in the rest of the drama that happens around them. Perhaps, they both want what they can’t have? Who knows.

The Blue Princess played by, Claudia Kim, is attractive, yes, but the only interesting thing about her character is also her greatest flaw. When the khan invaded her home, the real princess killed herself, leaving the present Blue Princess (who was a servant in the palace) to take her place. She spends most of her time locked away by her protector, dressing up in jewels and silks, whining and snapping at servants and doing everything to convince us that she is a princess. Yet, she manages to do nothing remotely interesting.

The only real entertaining female role is of Sorga, played by Vanessa Vanderstraaten, who is a warrior, daughter of Kaidu and related to the Khan. But we don’t see nearly enough of her. When she is on-screen, it is because she is seducing Marco Polo or finding love herself. That doesn’t mean that the Khan’s favorite wife, Empress Chabi, (Joan Chen), isn’t a strong woman, though. The Khan listens often to her advice, and she has her own duties besides just looking attractive on his arm. One of them being: picking new concubines for her husband? That’s a new one.

Despite some character flaws and a story that has some plot holes in it, Marco Polo does sweep you up into Thirteen century Mongolia…clearly this is a world that we haven’t seen before, and would love to see more of. It’s a cultural gem; the music, the clothing, the scenery, the fight scenes. The clashes between cultures, and domains. Netflix certainly doesn’t skimp on their costumes, sets or locations. But to invest so much money and time into such a big project, why does everyone always seem to forget about the importance of having a great story?

I’d love to see Marco Polo living up to the greatness it has set up for itself in Season 2, but you can’t forget about the story! Why does everyone always forget the story?

Have you guys seen the new show yet? Let me know what you think!

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