Marco Polo – A Martial Arts Review

When the second season of Netflix’s Marco Polo’s dropped last week, I took the liberty (happy 4th!) to spend a significant chunk of my long weekend doing a little binge-watching. So, if you skipped that one in favor of fireworks but are in the market for some more action stuff while you wait for more superheroes or brooding would-be monarchs in a battle for a pointy chair, and were waiting for a second opinion, read on.

Martial arts in TV is easy to do wrong, and hard to do right. An hour and twenty minutes makes a good martial arts film, but a ten-episode season of flying fists and little else loses its charm at some point along the way if there’s no other connective tissue. Fortunately, Marco Polo doesn’t suffer from that at all. In fact, if anything, the action sequences were a little sparser in this season in favor of exploring some of the politics of Mongol life as well as getting to know the characters more intimately. The production values and quality acting are all still there, as well as a healthy dose of action, but there was unquestionably more to it than just the marvelously-choreographed kung-fu.

Of course, the martial arts have to take somewhat of a front-row seat in Polo to make up for what it lacks in other areas. When we watch Game of Thrones, half the fun is wondering what shape everyone’s political schemes will take as they unfold, but with Marco Polo, we’re simply shown the discussions and negotiations and schemes—still fun to watch them unfold, but it lacks the same level of drama. That said, with notable exceptions in certain Miguel Sapochnik-directed penultimate episodes, Thrones doesn’t even come close to the level of tension created in Polo’s action sequences.

Marco Polo is increasingly veering away from the historical and further into historical fiction, (which is a good thing, because if you’re a history buff you don’t necessarily already know how it ends), but it seems that if there’s one constant we can continue to expect in the next season, it’s some of the best-designed martial arts sequences on TV.