Leonardo da Vinci is revisioned by the Dark Knight Trilogy co-scribe David Goyer as an arrogant and witty inventor caught between warring families and religious conspiracies. Does Starz’s latest revisionist historical drama hold up as a masterpiece of art?
Leonardo da Vinci (Tom Riley) is a young genius in the 1400s Florence, Italy. He’s a starving artist trying to get by, who quickly realizes he can rise to fame and financial success using his inventive skills in service to the wealthy Medici family as a weapons creator. In service to the Medicis, he finds himself caught up in a feud between the Medicis and the Pope and the Vatican of Rome, as well as a secret mystery of hidden knowledge that the Vatican is trying to keep all to itself.
This da Vinci isn’t the older, gray bearded historical figure most think of when they hear the name. (Nor is he the turtle everyone else thinks of.) Tom Riley plays a younger, arrogant character with a very Holmesian bent. In addition to putting his known inventive and artistic talents for the Medicis and Florence, he uses his brilliant deductive reasoning to solve mysterious happenings in between the rivalries of the Medicis and the Vatican in Rome. Why couldn’t Goyer give his and Nolan’s Batman this kind of detective skill?
Even taking a cue from recent Sherlock Holmes adaptations, the show gives the character a sort of “da Vinci vision” where he breaks down what he sees in sketches and examinations in slow motion inside his head. As derivative as this Holmes-like character may seem at first, I feel that this character puts enough of a twist on the Sherlock Holmes fad that hasn’t yet outstayed its welcome anyway.
With this show, Starz feels like it’s trying to revisit the success of its Spartacus series, with some of the gore and sex carrying over but toned down and given a Renaissance coating. The characters definitely wear more clothes, but that doesn’t prevent them from revealing just as much from time to time.
The show has a fun mix of political intrigue and mystic conspiracy. Different factions in Renaissance Italy are conniving against each other, with different believes in morality and cultural expression, as well as good, old-fashioned power lust.
The characters are all interesting and fall within several different areas of gray. Even the vile characters have moments of charm and likeability, and the so-called good guys – da Vinci included – have faults of pride and egotism.
This first season has an entertaining mix of captivating characters, intriguing conspiracies, and fun action. Here’s hoping the second season can follow up on it.
The Video and Audio
The series is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround sound. The video is sharp and colors really pop, showing the great detail the costumers and set designers really put into the work.
The CGI and green screen often sticks out as an obvious contrast to the real scenery, particularly on outdoor shots. There are some sets though revealed in commentary that I hadn’t realized were CGI. Overall though, the effects match the fittingly outlandish sets and costuming of the series.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The three-disc set comes in a shiny silver box with Tom Riley’s Da Vinci adorned on the cover with wing framework drawn over his arms.
A few of the episodes contain commentary with cast and crew with interesting stories about production. The special features include three-to-five minute shorts detailing both various aspects of production and the launch event. Also included are deleted scenes. All together, they’re a decent set of extras.
Overall (Not an Average)
Da Vinci’s Demons is a fun new show in the same vein as other Starz productions.