‘Warrior Nun’ Review: A Badass Fantasy Show Hampered by the Almighty Algorithm

     July 2, 2020

warrior-nun-netflix-slice“Netflix Original” has basically become its own genre no matter what the show is actually about, a tried-and-true formula beholden to the almighty algorithm that’s produced dozens of shows that are good and bad for the exact same reasons. That’s because there is a noticeable blueprint to these things that you can check off like Friends titles. The One That Does Flashbacks. The One That Ends on a Fight Scene. The One That Sidelines the Main Character and Grinds the Story to a Halt Because this 10-Episode Show Should Actually Be, Like, 8 Episodes Maximum. Such is the same for Warrior Nun, developed by Simon Barry from the Manga by Ben Dunn, a show that is both compulsively watchable and overwhelmingly familiar. When it’s good—see: when it focuses on a crew of nuns who beat more ass than a 1970s Sunday School teacher—it’s very good. But when it’s bad it’s just boring, and boring is TV’s cardinal sin.

Warrior Nun follows Ava (Alba Baptista), a quadriplegic orphan who we meet lying dead on a coroner’s slab. However, a mad series of events through the morgue leaves an ancient holy artifact, the Halo of the Angel Adriel, embedded in her back, bringing her back to life with a whole host of superpowers. After finding a newfound friendship with a crew of young criminal mansion-crashers—led by the aggressively attractive JC (Emilio Sakraya)—Ava is eventually tracked down by the Order of the Cruciform Sword, the Vatican’s society of devout women dedicated to fighting demons who have passed the Halo down from leader to leader since the Crusades. Torn between doing fun hood rat things with her friends and fulfilling an ancient heaven-sent destiny, Ava finds herself at the center of a tug-of-war between the demonic and the divine.

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Image via Netflix

Warrior Nun‘s main issue is that one half of its story is just infinitely more engaging than the other. Ava might be torn between two lives but the audience’s attention is not. It’s a really Poochie-ish problem: Whenever the warrior nuns aren’t on screen I was asking, “where are the warrior nuns?” Everything involving the Order of the Cruciform Sword is thrilling television, from the lore, to the costume design via Cristina Sopeña (the OCS rock a mean outfit that looks like Watchmen‘s Sister Night crossed over to Netflix’s Daredevil), to the performances. There’s just more dramatic heft to the stories, whether we’re following Sister Lilith (Lorena Andrea)—the rage-driven canoness who was supposed to be next in line to bear the Halo—or Shotgun Mary (Toya Turner), the order’s renegade member whose mother is serving life in prison for the crime of defending herself while Black. There’s a mission at the tail-end of episode 4 in which four of the Sister Warriors—Sisters Lilith, Beatrice (Kristina Tonteri-Young), Camilia (Olivia Delcán), and Crimson (Sinead MacInnes)—recover some stolen holy artifacts, and it feels like the full realization of a show with a campy-ass name like Warrior Nun. Quippy, quick, and filled with a mixture of unique costuming and genuinely impressive fight choreography.

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Image via Netflix

Unfortunately, that’s like…maybe 50-60% of the show. The other half is empty air, it’s surface-level, supernatural-tinged teen tension that feels tacked on because Stranger Things is Netflix’s most popular show. Cinematographers Christopher LaVasseur and Imanol Nabea do a wonderful job capturing the seasides and citadels of Spain, and, trust me, I’m not NOT into the idea of gorgeous characters catching feelings amid an even more gorgeous backdrop. But there’s a lack of chemistry to the proceedings. JC is your stock handsome hero despite Sakraya’s best efforts, while Ava’s other newfound friends are largely forgettable except for Chanel (May Simón Lifschitz), an endlessly chic trans woman who offers a glint of a sisterly bond with Ava before largely departing the story. Warrior Nun essentially devotes two full chapters to this table setting, and because Netflix shows are engineered to be consumed boom-boom-boom one after the other you almost don’t notice. But it also shouldn’t take almost two hours for the story to feel like a story.

The saving grace of Warrior Nun‘s more tedious aspects is Baptista herself, whose performance as Ava looks effortlessly charming while still doing a ton of heavy lifting. Baptista’s lead character adds heart to a show that often feels like a well-oiled assembly line. One of the show’s best scenes comes in the first episode, “Psalm 46:5”, directed by Jet Wilkinson. Ava, recently resurrected from the dead, simply runs on the beach, feeling sensation in her limbs and an ocean breeze on her skin for the first time in years. Baptista plays the full emotional scale, disbelief to sheer joy to overwhelming intensity and beyond, mostly across her facial expressions. Which also makes the show’s decision to include a constant, overbearing voice-over that much more confusing.

Warrior Nun is, sadly, just not as weird or wild or ballsy as a show called Warrior Nun should be. Instead, like Locke & Key before it (or Wu Assassins, or The Order, or Daybreak, or, well, you get the idea), there’s a thrilling 6-8 episode action story here stretched across 10 episodes trying to hit every quadrant at once.

Rating: B-

Warrior Nun debuts on Netflix on Thursday, July 2. 

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Television