Warrior Nun Review

by Nick Devonald on July 02, 2020

Warrior Nun is the latest of Netflix's adaptations of comic books to streaming series. Based on Warrior Nun Areala from Antarctic Press series, it's a Manga-style comic series written by Ben Dunn. Strip the comic to its most basic and it’s about a warrior sect of nuns within the Catholic Church, called the Order of the Cruciform Sword (or OCS), who battle demons. They’re led by the Warrior Nun, a chosen nun with an angel’s halo embedded in her back, which gives her superhuman abilities. Think religious ninja’s fighting demons and you have the gist. In the comic the Warrior Nun is sister Shannon, the TV series starts with her death off-screen and introducing us to her unwitting replacement.

The series starts by introducing us to our heroine, Ava, who in a series of unexpected events, becomes the new Warrior Nun, despite not believing in God. The series takes a little while to get into the story, and it’s the strength of Ava’s story which will keep viewers returning for the first half of the season. Having a chosen one not fully invested in their new role isn’t new territory, Buffy immediately springs to mind, but thanks to a clever twist it feels new and fresh. You see, Ava isn’t just some girl who gets given great powers, before the series begins she’s paralysed following a car accident as a child. The majority of her life has been spent as a quadriplegic orphan where she isn’t well cared for by the Christian Nun who runs the orphanage. This immediately sets up a number of conflicts and excellent storytelling opportunities. The Halo gives Ava the ability to walk again and gives her an instant distrust of the Church in general.

There is so much potential within this series, unfortunately not all of it fully realised with this first season. A few questionable choices manage to just prevent this first season from being elevated into the ranks of excellence, instead leaving it merely good. A great example is our introduction to the OCS. We meet them in the aftermath of a bloody defeat which leaves them feeling less formidable warriors and more like young girls out of their depth. By not featuring the battle, a presumably conscious decision on the part of showrunner Simon Barry to not detract from Ava’s story, it doesn’t work as well as it potentially could have done. While it does keep the focus on the star of the show, Ava, unfortunately, it leaves a bit of a sour taste when it comes to the order of the Cruciform Sword.

Certain plot points aren’t handled great either. Early on Ava meets JC, who is the potential love interest for Ava. But that storyline feels poorly handled. Then at the midpoint of the season, perhaps tellingly when the storyline improves drastically, he’s left behind and forgotten about. And doesn’t get a mention for the rest of the series. This abrupt absence feels strange and it raises questions about future appearances.

This series is very much about telling Ava’s story. The first half of the series in particular focuses on her story, and her rather unique story makes her an incredibly compelling character that viewers will root for. The first half of the season is heavily narrated by Ava’s inner monologue. It’s always risky having an overreliance on inner monologue as it can come across as poorly written but in this case it works incredibly effectively and helps sell us on the character of Ava. The focus on this first half of the story is very much on Ava’s character development and the story is very heavily character-led. It is a little jarring when, from the sixth episode onwards, we no longer get any inner monologue.

It takes until this midway point for the story and characters to come together but from that point on the story hits the ground running and makes itself binge worthy. By the time the season ends viewers will be crying out for a second season and resolution to an incredible season finale. There are more twists and turns than expected, and it feels like this first season has been about getting all the characters ready for the second season where the story will begin properly.

It leaves the first season feeling less like the first season and more the prologue before the story begins. One of the strengths of streaming is that a much bigger emphasis is placed on telling long form stories. It means that time can be taken introducing characters and building relationships that are earned. It also allows for stories to be more character driven and organic than older TV series would allow and is a definite strength, but a little more focus would have made an incredible difference here.

There are obvious parallels between this and Buffy. Buffy features a seemingly ordinary girl who only wants to live her life unburdened by destinies and battles between good and evil. A reluctance to fulfil their destiny but, when push comes to shove, they can’t ignore the unique position they’ve been placed in to battle the forces of darkness. And like the first season of Buffy, Warrior Nun is off to a bit of a shaky start but the potential is great, and future seasons promise great things.

There are some excellent casting choices as well. Alba Baptista as Ava manages to be both vulnerable and fearsome. In some of the early scenes, where she finds herself able to walk again are a real pleasure to watch for the pure, simple joy she manages to radiate.

One of the real highlights of the series however is Toya Turner as Shotgun Mary. Everything about her positively oozes badass. The midway point in the series where the story picks up is marked by an episode which focuses on Mary and Ava, where the pair gradually bond despite initial differences and dislike between the two.

Another good bit of casting is Tristán Ulloa as Father Vincent. He manages to be an almost father-like figure to the Nuns in his care, his faith seemingly unshakeable, yet as the series progresses we learn beneath his calm exterior there is a dark past. It leaves the viewers wanting to explore this darker side of the character, and the season finale suggests that going forward this past could be quite important to the ongoing story.

The acting from the rest of the Nuns initially feels a bit wooden, but as the series progresses viewers can see it’s quite subtly nuanced and that first impression is due to the restraint the Nuns show. It’s a little disappointing we don’t get to see too much of this till near the end of the season, but again it means there’s a lot of potential for that second season.

Despite the shaky start, and a few questionable decisions within the first season, it’s clear that there is a lot of potential here. Some compelling acting and strong, character-led stories, as well as some clever twists, are sure to keep viewers entertained. While some of the story elements have been seen before thanks to a few clever twists they feel new and exciting.

Our Score: 7/10