News

His Dark Materials First Reviews: Season 2 Rewards Faithful Fans, Critics Say

The return of HBO’s Golden Compass–inspired series features a timely story in an epic adventure. Ruth Wilson, in all her villainous glory, is a highlight.

by | November 9, 2020 | Comments


Updated November 18 with additional U.S. critic reviews.

One year ago, His Dark Materials premiered on both HBO and BBC, giving audiences a fresh look at the fantasy world inspired by Phil Pullman’s book series. Season 2 is right around the corner, giving fans of this re-interpretation — which pays more attention to The Subtle Knife, the second book in the trilogy — something to look forward to, as many of us continue to look to genre TV as an enjoyable form of escapism.

The new episodes, which premiered on November 8 on BBC One and airs on HBO starting November 16, will once again star Dafne Keen as Lyra Belaqua, Ruth Wilson as Marisa Coulter, and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby. (A standalone episode featuring  James McAvoy as Lord Asriel had to be cut from the season due to the Covid-19 production shutdown, but the character is expected to return in a third season that would focus on the events in the novel The Amber Spyglass.) The new season picks up exactly where season 1 ended: Lyra Belaqua, who is now known as Lyra Silvertongue, witnessed Lord Asriel murder her friend Roger (Lewin Lloyd). Season 1 ended as she stepped into a new world known as The Citagazze with her daemon Pan, destined to meet young Will Parry (Amir Wilson), an important hero from the second book, for the first time.

The first season of His Dark Materials is Certified Fresh with an 80% score on the Tomatometer. Will the new episodes of the effects-heavy series continue to deliver the fantasy goods? Here’s what the critics are saying about season 2 of HBO’s His Dark Materials.


HOW IS THE ACTING IN THE NEW SEASON OF HIS DARK MATERIALS?

His Dark Materials season 2 keyart

(Photo by HBO)

Dafne and Amir both do a masterful job at portraying young characters who are just as wide-eyed as they are wise beyond their years, bouncing off one another as they explore the curious city of Cittàgazze together. Despite coming from different worlds, one with witches and the other with iPhones, the pair are clearly cut from the same cloth, both inherently believing in the importance of goodness and morality. — Sabrina Barr, Metro (UK)

Wearing a blood-red dress and crypto-fascist boots, and with eyebrows unparalleled in conveying menace, Ruth Wilson is my kind of Mrs Coulter. — Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian

Actress Ruth Wilson is at her scene-stealing best with a performance that’s both seductive and chilling. — David Brown, Radio Times

There’s the deeply charismatic, perfectly cast Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby, the Texan balloon-cowboy. Tragically, Anne-Marie Duff doesn’t show up again as Gyptian matriarch Ma Costa, but here’s hoping. And, of course, there’s the voices of the daemons, played by David Suchet, Sope Dirisu, Peter Serafinowicz and Helen McCrory among others. — Thomas Barrie, GQ Magazine [UK]

Luxury casting has its drawbacks… On series two, it simply means we don’t see enough of James McAvoy and Lin-Manuel Miranda. — Suzi Feay, Financial Times



DOES THE PRODUCTION VALUE HOLD UP?

The director, Tom Hooper, [has] free rein to imagine what Pullman’s worlds look like, and most of what he imagines works well. Cittàgazze, for instance, the city where Lyra flees and meets Will, who is also on the run from grownups to this other world, becomes a CGI mash-up of a Tuscan hill town and Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy. — Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian

His Dark Materials looks great, it’s robustly made, and there are great actors everywhere, occupying well-built universes. — Ed Cumming, Independent (UK)

Most of the scenes were clearly shot in a studio. All that expensive CGI simply gives us a better quality of cardboard backdrops. — Christopher Stevens, Daily Mail (UK)


HOW DOES HIS DARK MATERIALS SEASON 2 HANDLE THE PHILOSOPHICAL THEMES FROM THE BOOKS?

Will Keen in His Dark Materials Season 2 - Episode 9

(Photo by HBO)

The second season builds on the heady mix of philosophy and theology, and more than a touch of environmentalism, all delivered as a thrilling adventure yarn in the mould of C S Lewis but with a very different attitude towards religion. The main thrust remains sure-footed in teaching young and old that speaking truth to power is no bad thing when the power is authoritarian in nature. — Joseph Walsh, The Arts Desk

The BBC also deals with the anti-religious elements of the franchise with a light touch by turning the central conflict into a story about the disempowered struggling against the authorities – the Gyptians, the witches and the orphan Lyra versus the Magisterium and, literally, The Authority. It works, mostly, and sidesteps Pullman’s slightly difficult message ­– for a public service broadcaster, at least – of “God bad”. — Thomas Barrie, GQ Magazine [UK]

Screenwriter Jack Thorne’s adaptation tries slavishly to cram in all the books’ philosophising, which can only be done if characters talk endlessly. There’s almost no action in this adventure. — Christopher Stevens, Daily Mail (UK)

As much as I wish Season 2 found a way to narratively pull through, it’s still as dark, mystical, and philosophically intriguing as Season 1 – so if you’re a returning viewer, you’ll probably like it. You just won’t be wowed by it. — Brooke Bajgrowicz, Mashable


ANY FINAL THOUGHTS?

Lin-Manuel Miranda in His Dark Materials Season 2 - Episode 9

(Photo by HBO)

It was divisive in its first go-around and it’ll likely remain so, but the space in the television landscape for a reality-hopping fantasy adventure is always better filled than left vacant. — Jonathan Wilson, Ready Steady Cut

Viewers who’ve invested in the series won’t stop now. For a series about magical worlds, aimed at younger viewers, however, there’s not quite enough magic. — Ed Cumming, Independent (UK)

For avid Pullman fans, the series might be a treat. The problem for the rest of us is that it lacks both the novelty of series one and the exciting narrative – it now feels very dense, which works well in a novel but less so in a TV series. — Anita Singh, Daily Telegraph

His Dark Materials feels grander and less cramped than before – finally living up to its epic fantasy ambitions it had from the beginning. — Hoai-Tran Bui, Slashfilm

For a story centered on the exploits of a frightened, isolated teenager, the show remains remarkably devoid of any sense of fear, excitement, or passion. — Tim Stevens,
The Spool

His Dark Materials finally feels as though it has found its groove in its second season. The series feels more lush, propulsive, and epic than it ever has before, with a tightly paced plot and characters we can actually care about. — Lacy Baugher, Paste Magazine

In its second season, His Dark Materials is a thrilling adventure. Not only does it improve and expand upon Season 1, it delves into new ideas and realities that make for a tauter, more exciting story. — Cynthia Vinney, CBR

This is the epic adventure we all needed during 2020. If you missed the first season, go back and binge it now because His Dark Materials second season is ready to blow you away. — Alex Maidy, JoBlo’s Movie Network

His Dark Materials season 2 premieres on HBO on November 16.


On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

Winners Super Bowl Ovation japanese video CNN based on movie 2017 kong Tokyo Olympics comic books Netflix Christmas movies strong female leads nfl cooking pirates of the caribbean Columbia Pictures Netflix San Diego Comic-Con YouTube ghosts space werewolf popular Holiday See It Skip It monster movies universal monsters rotten breaking bad TV Walt Disney Pictures elevated horror 2021 CBS All Access quibi psychological thriller First Reviews TBS Cosplay ESPN a nightmare on elm street aliens Spectrum Originals Emmy Nominations twilight GLAAD Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt award winner Universal First Look hispanic dceu cancelled TV shows laika gangster stop motion women movies Mystery Apple DC Universe 45 ABC Family child's play archives Tarantino Rocky movie historical drama richard e. Grant Toys medical drama TNT cancelled TV series independent Star Wars TCA Winter 2020 prank Cartoon Network Acorn TV SundanceTV BBC One telelvision Black History Month Set visit Marvel Television Amazon scene in color DC Comics suspense unscripted children's TV golden globe awards Endgame Drama Marathons OWN blockbusters PlayStation heist movie APB canceled TV shows versus all-time high school slasher romance sequel toy story GoT Legendary boxoffice asian-american series NBA football Disney+ Disney Plus Reality critics finale die hard true crime directors witnail renewed TV shows crime drama Pacific Islander target Photos Baby Yoda latino Brie Larson scary movies festival Chilling Adventures of Sabrina chucky Chernobyl Pet Sematary Esquire Best and Worst 72 Emmy Awards international streaming movies Funimation rt labs ABC Signature NYCC comics joker 4/20 slashers Masterpiece Disney Plus Fox News dogs Song of Ice and Fire FX Vudu halloween tv BET Awards anthology Heroines National Geographic Mary Poppins Returns japan adventure video on demand Turner psycho Disney Marvel Studios Spike australia Disney Channel docudrama Animation PBS natural history CBS batman The Purge television The Arrangement hidden camera Watching Series sequels Superheroe theme song Adult Swim trailers DGA Shondaland 2020 foreign Tomatazos X-Men comedies cars blockbuster game of thrones BBC America dramedy Black Mirror anime Anna Paquin Stephen King NBC Disney streaming service aapi saw 24 frames Britbox Pirates VH1 WGN 1990s rt labs critics edition teaser Summer Nickelodeon ViacomCBS stand-up comedy HBO Fall TV BAFTA Valentine's Day Mary poppins documentaries Premiere Dates Television Critics Association olympics documentary animated Star Trek GIFs Mudbound royal family screenings Rocketman technology discovery ID travel 007 zero dark thirty police drama Sony Pictures festivals Awards Tour PaleyFest social media Certified Fresh blaxploitation IFC james bond romantic comedy transformers new star wars movies SDCC Arrowverse what to watch YouTube Red superhero halloween Binge Guide TCA 2017 Trophy Talk CMT Winter TV Countdown justice league New York Comic Con Ellie Kemper criterion TV Land spanish language toronto Television Academy ratings Oscars Hallmark talk show obituary spy thriller Wes Anderson kids politics franchise name the review godzilla singing competition hollywood hist emmy awards classics Comedy Podcast Amazon Prime Video FX on Hulu Food Network TCA spider-man crime thriller Schedule jamie lee curtis Comics on TV History action-comedy LGBTQ wonder woman indie Musical TV renewals Film Elton John Pixar El Rey American Society of Cinematographers 2016 The CW Crackle Nominations Apple TV+ serial killer supernatural BET Discovery Channel Pop TV TV One venice free movies VICE mockumentary OneApp Ghostbusters Trivia scorecard 71st Emmy Awards italian worst movies Pop Family reboot Paramount Network dark 90s CW Seed Reality Competition TLC kaiju posters Superheroes king kong ITV adaptation FXX 2018 Thanksgiving A24 Comic Book Travel Channel Action worst Sundance sag awards 93rd Oscars Warner Bros. Bravo comic book movie Pride Month best spinoff 21st Century Fox crime Film Festival Freeform Classic Film The Witch lord of the rings game show Sneak Peek live action mutant Women's History Month Opinion Dark Horse Comics DirecTV Rock HBO Max facebook Turner Classic Movies Spring TV Calendar LGBT young adult Western stoner book Box Office RT21 mcc ABC docuseries Avengers USA USA Network Sundance Now canceled dragons comic TCA Awards cancelled Infographic MTV Election razzies Alien political drama Biopics spain tv talk comic book movies fast and furious Kids & Family TruTV Captain marvel concert Musicals marvel cinematic universe Marvel Epix Shudder E3 spanish king arthur jurassic park Exclusive Video President Lucasfilm SXSW Christmas composers Creative Arts Emmys Mindy Kaling christmas movies Writers Guild of America Rom-Com Trailer Lifetime Christmas movies Country Apple TV Plus Paramount Plus Peacock Starz new york vampires binge VOD TV movies nbcuniversal MCU Hulu know your critic The Walking Dead HBO Go war rt archives IFC Films zombies adenture cancelled television sports 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards rotten movies we love RT History Teen Amazon Studios MSNBC 2019 Amazon Prime 2015 Interview fresh disaster feel good Year in Review new zealand biography screen actors guild revenge debate dexter Lionsgate Holidays south america nature Polls and Games Comic-Con@Home 2021 parents Mary Tyler Moore Lifetime biopic Crunchyroll cinemax The Walt Disney Company french Paramount casting E! Quiz Academy Awards TCM comiccon news reviews Tumblr 99% Nat Geo 73rd Emmy Awards Extras Cannes book adaptation golden globes crossover diversity BBC mission: impossible TIFF deadpool Showtime Martial Arts rom-coms 20th Century Fox hispanic heritage month cops zombie YA Logo dc satire miniseries Sci-Fi Comedy Central green book Fantasy streaming Fox Searchlight superman cats doctor who Video Games Character Guide remakes boxing critic resources Sundance TV indiana jones cartoon science fiction basketball legend Grammys sitcom DC streaming service Awards Hear Us Out AMC films YouTube Premium Syfy black WarnerMedia Broadway Music Emmys robots Horror Red Carpet Hallmark Christmas movies The Academy Image Comics harry potter period drama A&E thriller Tubi marvel comics FOX cults