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This week, the moment many fans have been waiting more than 30 years to see is finally here in the form of the first live-action adaptation of The Sandman. The long-awaited series based on Neil Gaiman's beloved comic book saga was years in the making, and before that it spent years in development hell, cycling through various potential incarnations before finally arriving at Netflix, where Gaiman himself retained creative control alongside his co-developers Allan Heinberg and David S. Goyer.
In case you somehow still haven't heard much about the show yet, Sandman follows Dream (Tom Sturridge), aka Morpheus, the lord of dreams and ruler of the magical realm known as The Dreaming, where he creates and controls all of humanity's dreams and nightmares. But as the story begins, Morpheus is out of power, and he has been for quite a while, thanks to a wizard's spell that captured and contained him in a glass prison for a century. Newly freed from captivity, Morpheus must set out to restore his realm and reclaim his place in The Dreaming, turning to entities like his sister Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), even as everyone from Lucifer (Gwendoline Christie) to a rogue nightmare known as The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook) might stand in his way.
It's an epic story, to be sure, and Gaiman's spent the last several years talking about all the different elements that needed to work well in order to successfully translate that story to the screen. Now, Sandman is actually here, and critics who've had a chance to take a look at the first season are weighing in. So, how does Sandman fare? While it sounds like your experience may vary particularly when it comes to your relationship to the source material, critics largely agree that the series is very much worth watching, perhaps even worth losing sleep over. Here's a peek at what some of the top critics around the web had to say in praise of the series.
"The Sandman is everything longtime fans could have dreamed of in an adaptation," Amelia Emberwing wrote at IGN. "Sturridge is utterly ethereal as Dream, and his co-stars seem to keep pace with him with ease. Meanwhile, stunning, sweeping images from The Dreaming to Hell itself keep us immersed in the fantasy. It’s as faithful of an adaptation as it could be, and, outside of the fact that it may go over a few new viewers’ heads, it’s just about perfect."
"Of course, the accuracy to the source material would do little if not for brilliant actors to bring these storied characters to life," Richard Newby wrote at Empire. "Tom Sturridge, not yet a major name, is pitch-perfect in making Morpheus flesh and blood, deftly navigating his stoicism and distance with a sad, though not entirely charmless, sense of punk-Byronic loneliness."
"It is transportive, playful at times, and certainly grand," Rebecca Nicholson wrote at The Guardian. "But above all, it is dark. Bodies explode, limbs are severed, and demons crawl out of the mouths of professional footballers, fist-first. Nestled in among its more grotesque spectacles, though, is an emotional depth that elevates this far beyond the usual 'let’s see what we can blow the CGI budget on' fantasy fodder. Given the source material, that’s no wonder. For fans, it may well turn out to have been worth the long wait, but for newcomers to The Sandman’s world, there is plenty to discover."
It's worth noting, though, that not all critics agree. While response to The Sandman has been largely positive so far, some reviewers were frustrated by the sheer scale of the story, not because it's big, but because for them, it never seemed to really hold together.
"Excruciatingly slow and dull if not outright boring, Sandman is a perplexing failure," Kelly Lawler wrote at USA Today. "The stories that make up the comic-book epic are sewn together haphazardly and confusingly, never building to discernible arcs and not even broken down into interesting stand-alone episodes. The series is a pile of stories and moods randomly tossed on top of each other."
Still other critics were not yet ready to hail the series as a new streaming masterpiece, but they did see plenty worth liking in these 10 first season episodes, as well as plenty of promise for even grander storytelling to come.
"As much as Dream would like to think nothing’s changed in his time away, he’s confronted over and over with the reality that nothing is the same as it once was — including himself, as loath as he is to admit it. The Sandman, too, might be a little stuck in its ways," Angie Han wrote at The Hollywood Reporter. "It’s an enjoyable enough series, with picturesque CG settings (think Asgard meets Rivendell for Dream’s castle), a likable cast and an occasionally disarming sense of curiosity about the human condition. But it’s too trapped in glass to let itself run truly free into the dream world it wants to conjure."
"With enough forward-facing momentum and the might of Gaiman’s ever-complicating lore behind, Netflix’s The Sandman justifies its existence — and the potential for so much more story to come — time and time again," Caroline Framke wrote at Variety.
The Sandman is now streaming on Netflix.
Looking for some fantasy content? Click here for our list of the best fantasy films available on Peacock.