‘Da Vinci’s Demons’ Series Premiere Review

Published 2 years ago by

Tom Riley in Da Vincis Demons The Hanged Man Da Vincis Demons Series Premiere Review

Considering his success with characters like Blade, Batman and, possibly, Superman, it’s clear that David S. Goyer sees the world through superhero-tinted glasses. While it might seem like too much of a stretch, rather than adapt another well-known character from the pages of Marvel or DC, the writer-director’s gaze has turned to the annals of history and, more specifically, famed thinker, inventor and artist Leonardo Da Vinci (Tom Riley) as the subject of his very superhero-y action drama Da Vinci’s Demons.

Known for helping Christopher Nolan script a more grounded approach to the caped crusader, it is obvious from the earliest moments of this new series that Goyer was intent on doing exactly the opposite – the end result of which suggests Goyer’s best work may be done through collaboration and the filter of another creative mind.

As such, Da Vinci’s Demons gives itself free reign to begin some worldbuilding early on by stating flat out that the world as it is known has been suppressed and there is an enormous conspiracy keeping vast amounts of knowledge in the hands of a few select and very powerful people – i.e., Pope Sixtus IV (James Faulkner) and those in his cabal.

Through the opening scene’s exposition, Goyer essentially offers the series the entire world and recorded history as its sandbox, after a mysterious man states to a slightly drugged Da Vinci that “History is a lie,” and therefore the secrets of the world are essentially his to discover. The episode then jumps back in time several days so that we can get to know this dashing fellow with his carefully tousled hair, his immaculate beard and his leather jacket that looks like it was bought off-the-rack at Express for Men.

Eros Vlahos and Gregg Chillin in Da Vincis Demons The Hanged Man Da Vincis Demons Series Premiere Review

Riley’s Leonardo Da Vinci is obviously the show’s centerpiece, but he’s also the first confounding element to a series that, tonally speaking, is a bit scattered. One minute Da Vinci is sketching a young woman in a field and the next he’s tying his flaxen-haired manservant to a kite to see if he can make him fly (the whole scene is woefully reminiscent of a moment during Syfy’s failed Flash Gordon series involving a young member of the Hawkmen and his first time taking flight). In addition to the aforementioned stylings and slightly inconsistent behavior of Da Vinci, there are a number of anachronisms presented in the first episode that are delivered in such a way it’s uncertain whether the audience should be marveling at their existence or simply giggling away.

These scenes beg the question of whether or not the series is giving the audience a subtle wink or if it wants to be taken seriously. Is the mechanical dove an artifact erased from history because, as the conceit of the show suggests, powerful people want things like that to remain hidden, or was it just too absurd to not be stricken from the record books?

The uneven tone seems to put one half of the series firmly in the camp of the old Hercules and Xena television series, while the other half is a dark, violent tale that twists around the idea of conspiracy like The X-Files. It’d be fine to marry the two into something new that is both absurd and intriguing, but that would require some stability on behalf of the storytelling and the characters. From what’s presented in the ‘The Hanged Man,’ Da Vinci is offered as both a genius and a petulant child – which, again, are two characteristics that are frequently married with great success (e.g., Sherlock Holmes and Tony Stark) – but so far, there’s not enough binding the two contrasting elements together in a truly interesting fashion.

Tom Riley and Tom Bateman in Da Vincis Demons The Hanged Man Da Vincis Demons Series Premiere Review

But this is only the series premiere and kinks like this sometimes are quickly worked out. On the bright side, it’s easy to see where Goyer wants to go with the series – if history has been a lie, then the entire history of the world is his to rewrite. So far, he’s set up a looming conflict between Florence and The Vatican as the series’ foundation – which allows Da Vinci to show off engineering prowess by designing weapons of war for Lorenzo Medici (Elliot Cowan) – all while adding the quest for something called The Book of Leaves that may or may not contain the secret history of the world.

Admittedly, that’s a lot of table setting being done through a presentation that seems to be on unsure footing. But there’s enough on the table to maybe convince those left skeptical by the premiere to stick around and see where it goes. Da Vinci’s Demons seems poised to strike a chord either through embracing what feels like a tongue-in-cheek approach to its premise, or by engaging more with the high-flying adventure series that seems to be lurking underneath all that unnecessary exposition and muddied staging.

Most new shows need some time to find their footing, but Da Vinci’s Demons also needs to figure out which direction it’s planning on running once it does.


Da Vinci’s Demons continues next Friday with ‘The Serpent’ @9pm on Starz. Check out a preview of the season ahead:

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  1. This show has some potential, hopefully it doesnt take to long to find it’s footing in case of people lose interest and toss it aside.

    • Should be cancelled straight away, this pilot was shockingly awful.

      Hmm, yes, a well groomed cocky English guy with model features and a stylish haircut who can’t seem to stop showing off his bare chest,,, that’s exactly who springs to mind when I think of Leonardo Da Vinci, Italy’s (and the worlds) greatest ever artist and inventor.

      Seriously, they might as well of cast David Beckham to play Da Vinci, Stop this utter c**p now!!!!

      • I wouldn’t bother worrying about casting. After all, The Borgias has two English actors and a French actor playing Spanish historical figures with English accents with Jeremy Irons not being the fat and bloated bearded man that Rodrigo actually was.

        • Eh yeah, the casting is awful anyway(not to mention the story and dialogue) but I was referring more to the fact that the actual character is so unlikeable, he’s just smug, cocky and acts like a total d**k. Count me out of watching anymore of this anyway,

          I’m no expert but I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to find the main protagonist of a show atleast some what bearable in other to keep coming back and tuning in every week.

          Ha, I honestly found King Joffrey more likeable than this leather jacket, gel haired Da Vinci, hahaha he’s Leonardo Da Vinci Fonz

          • Da Vinci was not a great inventor. Non of his designs ever worked. He was good at conceptualizing things, but not inventing.

      • I agree, I just watched the first 20 minutes, and then turned it off!
        A pope that rapes then murders young boys with a knie?? A Robotic Bird that can fly, in the 16th Century???

        • That was supposed to say 15th Century, not 16th :S!!

          • Actually, some popes in the renaissance were pretty pervy.

  2. I have a feeling this won’t last…

    • Guys, this is Leonardo Da Vinci, at young age and t’is is just the premiere of the series. He would be just as you wanted him to look, like the real LDV (that long bearded old man ) maybe a couple of seasons but for now, early days my dear friends.

  3. they need to improve his character to be sort of similar to the one in assassin creed 2

  4. I really enjoyed the premiere! definitely has a lot of potential :) I’m sticking for now with this show

  5. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, David S. Goyer is the most overrated writer/director in cinema. He has just gotten lucky to have worked with several genius level teams, but I don’t know how long he will last if Hollywood keeps believing he is actually good at writing, directing, or producing. Let the man be a creative consultant, earn a good paycheck, but stop putting him in charge of productions.

    • Yep. The man responsible for both Ghost Rider movies, Blade Trinity…… and “Jumper”…. OUCH! How’s that for a track record. Not to mention, Nick Fury: Agent of Shield starring David Hasselhoff.

      Worst dialog writer in Hollywood. Everything coming from an actor’s mouth created by David S. Goyer is clunky, corny and obvious in the extreme.

      The Batman trilogy was to Nolan’s credit. Goyer was only along for the ride.

    • @Brett

      Hollywood will never ditch him even if he does suck.

      After all, they still give work to Adam Sandler, the Wayans family, Shia LeBeouf, Michael Bay, Joss Whedon and still greenlight crap movies and sequels to crap movies while refusing to allow great movies or sequels to great movies to be greenlit.

  6. weren’t wonder woman and the orginal batman both very VERY campy and goofy? Yet they are are never used as examples. lol

    Leave Xena alone…..

  7. This show is awful. It is an insult to Da Vinci’s memory and genious.
    I hope it gets cancelled as soon as possible.

    • Should be cancelled straight away, this pilot was shockingly awful.

      Hmm, yes, a well groomed cocky English guy with model features and a stylish haircut who can’t seem to stop showing off his bare chest,,, that’s exactly who springs to mind when I think of Leonardo Da Vinci, Italy’s (and the worlds) greatest ever artist and inventor.

      Seriously, they might as well of cast David Beckham to play Da Vinci, Stop this utter c**p now!!!!

      • Hmm, methinks you’re a little too proud of your “clever” comment. Posting the same comment twice is lame.

  8. What a mess! I had higher hopes. And I will watch the next ep in hopes of a turn around. Still, this was a misguided project on so many fronts. If eve there was a man who’s story and character could captivate an audience without ridiculous embellishment it was DaVinci. Historical fiction tends to be more fun when there is more history involved. Making him an irritating know-it-all and the Jason Bourne/James Bond hybrid badass genius is a bit much. His creativity was tremendous, and yet the show relies on absurdity and cliche to deliver that message rather than plumbing the source material more for truer answers.

    The realism and technical wizardry his metal bird displayed was way beyond reason. It was insultingly fake, and that (ironically) undermines the notion that he was a mechanical genius. I also doubt that a man who history supposes was gay was actually an indescriminate womanizer of epic proportions. I don’t believe he would have survived with such a big mouth and no army to back it up, even if he was a super fantastic ambidextrous swordsman. I like the mention of his motive for designing war machines, but am annoyed by no inference of his distaste for war and violence. It is said that his tank diagram contained reversed cranks so that if built as written it would function improperly. Knowing his proclivity for encoding and protecting his thoughts, this sounds plausible, and details like this would be more interesting than an exploding box of secrets.

    As for the bright side, much of the production looks very nice, with competent CGI cityscapes and reasonable sets mixed with a few stone and natural outdoor settings. The notebooks and their comtents resemble the real works and drawings of Leonardo, and reference some of his intrigueing designs. His workshop has the potential to be a fascinating location.

    Alexander Siddig had a small, but promising role that will be recurring. This is the most I have seen of him since he went by the name Siddig El Fadil while playing Dr. Bashir on Deep Space Nine, but anyone who saw him play Fiesel in the sequel to Lawrence of Arabia knows that his ethnic roles are very convincing. (By the way, it was that film that won him an audition to play Captain Sisko, and later landed him the Dr. Role).

    The focus on flight was compelling, (except that the three supposed executions of flight were all glaringly fake.). The slow motion bird wings were so beautiful I can’t wait to see that level of work again! More of that could go a long way to making me tolerate the weak parts.

    Assassin’s Creed fans may enjoy seeing some familiar old locales, and hearing some historical names like Medici and Sforza and Pazzi. The themes of hidden history, long wars of ideology, freedom versus control, and conspiracies of ancient origin are all so familiar that it’s hard to believe the creators haven’t been dipping into pop culture beyond The DaVinci Code.

    I want more realism, less hot shot attitude and implausible super-human moments, more visual spectacle in the form of nature (like the birds) or history (like the notebooks). Reign in the thoroughly modern annoyances that permeate the main character and pull me out of the story. Strive for characters that dont fit into the mold of mediocrity built by the lesser shows out there and aspire to greater depictions.

    I’d like to follow many true threads of history, regardless of how far into the fiction they get. I wouldn’t even care that much if they went sci fi with the crazy stuff if they could just keep the grounded moments more grounded. It’s too late to hope for a fact-based, semi-documentary that explores what we know to be the remarkable story of the man. That’s not what this is. But if they could really sell me on the DaVinci parts I would be more willing to follow along for the “Demons” fantasy elements and quasi-Xfiles conspiracy yarn.

    I really hope it gets better, because if we can’t have a great series based on a man like that, then the state of television is truly dismal. The material is too rich for any excuses, and the show ought to be like the man himself: extraordinary.

  9. The show seemed jumbled and a bit too fast-paced, but I enjoyed it for the beauty of the art design and production. But I am hoping there is a bit more attention to story detail in the coming episodes.

  10. The pilot is a complete failure.

    Normally, I would say something like, “Any resemblance to the life of Leonardo da Vinci is purely coincidental,” but there is no substantive resemblance to the man and his life at all.

    The writer can’t even get a few details down accurately. He didn’t let the birds free from their cages to study their flight. He bought them and set them free because he didn’t like them being in cages.

    The writer doesn’t even have the most rudimentary understanding of what motivated da Vinci. And to substitute for that, he populates the pilot with sensationalist side shows which don’t have anything to do with a cohesive storyline. Moreover, any pretense of a storyline has only tangential reference to da Vinci.

    This show promises to be a complete waste of money and a complete waste of time to watch, if one wishes anything more than shallow titillation (no pun intended). Stick to Batman and Superman, Pal. You’re in your element with comic book characters, and certainly not with one of history’s greatest geniuses. His profundity seems to be beyond you.

    As to casting, the actor portraying da Vinci is a prancing, pretentious fop and is playing the man all wrong. He hasn’t got the slightest ounce of the gravitas which da Vinci had. Shallow, shallow, shallow. To give him his due, he had absolutely no insights about the man to work from. But he could have done his OWN research and done better than the writer.

    Starz, you’re out of your element too. Stick to shallow entertainment and don’t venture into serious subject matter unless you want to pick the correct writer to do it with you.

    • Have to respond to the last part about Starz being “shallow entertainment” because the Spartacus show has followed more of the actual history than that crappy, overlong movie with Kirk Douglas did, even if it does embellish certain facts to give an extra sense of drama.

      Then again, I only know Starz for Spartacus and that show was shown on Sky1 over here since the very first episode so…

      • I didn’t realize they were claiming this as actual history.

  11. My wife and I were very disappointed in this show. We both lost interest very quickly.I don’t see this show lasting long.

  12. Rant much? -points up at the two prior posts- I think , Starz just needed a filler for Spartacus. I’m not into the whole , Period Television programing but Spartacus was down right enjoyable could have done with out the excessive sex though , but it was a fun ride while it lasted.

  13. Quit Bashing the show. Its just a show not a documentary of Leonardo Da Vinci. I did enjoy it, it gives me everything I want in a show. Yes its a bit confusing and slow at times but it just started, give it a break. Because of people like you, complainers good shows sometimes get cancelled. You need to give some shows a chance. ITS NOT A DOCUMENTARY!!!!! SO ENJOY THIS SHOWS, there are horrible shows on tv and this one is way better, y don’t u go there and complaint about those and leave this one alone because I liked it.

    • No,, if we all keep complaining and bashing and not watch stuff like this, then hopefully they’ll stop making it, that goes for all badly written TV shows, (which this so obviously is). We’ve all seen the show and we’re entitled to come here and give our opinions.

      If you liked it, then fair enough, but you shouldn’t care what other people think. So what if we want better quality shows, when the bar has been set so high with the likes of Soprano’s, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire etc etc, I’m afraid Sexy boy Da Vinci with his lovely gelled hair just don’t cut it.

      Oh, and thanks very much, but we’re all aware that it wasn’t a documentary,,, hmmmm, something about Leonardo Da Vinci speaking English and having a golden robot bird gave it away,,

      • Wow, that’s pretty arrogant of you, barry m. “I don’t like it so it shouldn’t exist.” You are aware that you can CHANGE THE F***ING CHANNEL, right?

        • Here Here!

  14. I was soo disappointed with the episode. The acting was awful. The script and plot just seems all over the place. With Spartacus now done I just don’t see Starz coming up with another series the will reach the heights that Spartacus did. I don’t see this series lasting

  15. Spartacus is far better series

  16. I kept expecting Ezio to appear and Caprica Six too (with the music the same as Battlestar Gallactica(Same Composer/Bear McCreary). Feels unoriginal but I can’t put my finger on why at this point.

    Quite a dire to watch. It reminded me of Merlin but it’s trying to be The Borgias and failing. Appears to(me) be a show much like Revolution that is a mix of current/recent successful shows/games and is not passable as original in it’s own right.

  17. Did not like the pilot. It was disgustingly crude and not very original. It was like watching a mishmash of several TV and cable TV shows that have been done before.

  18. I was planning on whatching the pilot but when it aired i had no interest in seeing it for some reason.

    And after reading the reviews here (wich usually is very accurate) i think i’ll save this for a rainy day when there is absolutely nothing else to see.
    Doesn’t seem to be my cup of tea. British costume dramas never intriuge me 😀

  19. Its intriguing how the writer depicts an ordinary everyday man gifted with talents larger than himself. Because were all artists in our own right. Da Vinci has yet to harness his power. his responsibilities for the good of mankind.. Young, cocky, manipulative gel’d hair. I look forward to seeing more of how writer perceives society. Beauty of the show need not be expansive nor grand in scale.. Casting.. Story line… Show is charming both modern and traditionally. Very visually appealing. There’s no such luck or accident to the graphics.. Wonderfully rendered, love the camera pan angles and perspectives. You really think director and writer cares if there’s not a second season? They’ve already accomplished success in the first 10min of episode 1. I’d watch da Vinci’s demon’s over the following:
    Boardwalk e.
    Game of t.
    Breaking b.

    • I agree that the filming is stunning visually and for people who are not aware of it,showing in slow motion how the wings and the tail of a bird operate was a stroke of genius since many of our machines, such as helicopters, planes, fans, propellers … are based on how nature works. This one scene alone clearly shows how a genius with a quick mind could understand the mechanics of flying. Da Vinci was an arrogant man, so his character as a young man is not unbelievable. The plot is too much all over the place, but “flowing” with the emotions and acknowledging that the series is a fantasy allow the viewer to enjoy the show. The brutality of people in power at the time knew very few boundaries, if they chose to be cruel and that is well depicted.

    • Thank you! You said what I was thinking, only in a more pilot fashion than I would’ve said it. Apparently all of these people who are complaining have remote controls that don’t have off buttons. I’ve never heard of that, but it’s the only logical explanation.

    • Not to seem too pedantic, but Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, not Da Vinci.

  20. Terrible, awful, and ridiculous. Should be canceled immediately.

  21. I love the Da Vinci series. However it is true that he looks too “modern” and “macho man.” I wonder where did they get all those intimate details about his life? Still, I enjoy those episodes very much even when most of the stories appear to be made up or embellished by the writers (based on what I’ve read in the past about Da Vinci).

  22. Pathetic, is the word to describe all the hatters everywhere. See, the show does have a lot of fantasy yes, but is not a docu-drama, so you have to take it with a grain of salt for your amusement. From the first episode on, the show get ever increasing quality and most complains here (like his seemingly ambiguous sexuality or even homosexuality, which isn’t proved anyway) where addressed one way or another.

    The show is filled with anachronisms and fantasy, but then again, is not a documentary or even a docu-drama neither it pretends to be one.

    It’s a fictional history loosely based on some historical events and characters, and if you take it for what it is you’ll enjoy it.

    • Whatever is a fantasy fiction or a docu-drama (not the case), is BAD WRITEN and has really bad acting. Game of Thrones is all fantasy, but has believable characters. Can you understand this? So, if you really liked this show, you have bad taste. Fact, not an opinion.

  23. You’re completely missing the point. The reason DaVinci was so successful and intriguing was that a lot of what he did, did not make sense using standardized metrics. The volatility of his mind allowed him to think on levels beyond a low level critic…. Or an uninspired audience. Goyer is speaking to a very small audience who is inspired by his tale. The “collaborations” before allowed him the opportunity to try and convey the volatility of genius.

  24. The only way to justify watching such a ridiculous rewrite of history is to just resign oneself to the show borrowing the name of Leonardo DaVinci for purposes of entertainment not for historic enlightenment. It is outlandish although fairly enjoyable if you suspend disbelief and imagine any old name for the ‘hero’.I’ve never seen history and reputations to be so rubbishedly disregarded, it is sad they didn’t just invent a ‘hero’ for the purposes of the show, and we could enjoy it far more. I can’t believe they have authorised a 3rd series. It’s like watching one of those movie/videogame quest characters like Lara Croft or Indian Jones. Such a shame.