Netflix has lately been leaning pretty hard into the realm of fantasy for its more recent and upcoming stuff — The Witcher was a runaway hit; the Gina Prince-Bythewood-directed The Old Guard stars Charlize Theron as an immortal mercenary with special powers, and the new series Cursed, coming later in July, reimagines the legend of King Arthur from the Lady of the Lake’s point of view — and in terms of pure escapism, you really can’t get much better than that.
The streamer’s new show Warrior Nun is an extension of this, imagining a world where science and religion have a teetering alliance and all the ass-kicking is done by a crusading sect of weapon-wielding sisters trying to keep the forces of Hell at bay. Come for the fun, bizarre coming-of-age-story about a girl unwittingly turned into the vessel for a magic Halo, but stay for the truly impressive fight choreography.
Ava’s (Alba Baptista) life is literally over. Having lived in a Spanish orphanage for most of her young life as a quadriplegic after a terrible car accident, an overdose of medication kills her and her body is transported to a morgue. During a fight to the death between the forces of darkness and a group of nuns following the Order of the Cruciform Sword, a glowing metal Halo is removed from the body of a dying nun and embedded in Ava’s back for safekeeping, but before they can retrieve it, it’s brought Ava back to life and she’s on the run.
Pursued by a team of habit-adorned, weapon-wielding sisters, Ava — a nonbeliever — must choose between living a normal life (impossible) and joining their order (potentially deadly). Meanwhile, a brilliant scientist (Thekla Reuten) has discovered the ability to open a portal to another dimension that she believes in Heaven, but what may possibly be the other, worse place — and to create her machine, she’s been using ancient artefacts made out of the powerful metal Divinium, which just happens to be the only thing that can kill a warrior nun.
The plot is mostly fine, with most of the early episodes taken up by Ava’s indecision between joining the forbidding nun order or tagging along with a group of young mansion-hopping grifters whose leader — a boy named, appropriately, JC (Emilio Sakraya) — she has a huge crush on.
But what really makes the show stand out is the fantastic fight choreography. In terms of action, this show gets it, pitting the nuns against private security goons, interdimensional demons in the shape of giant Decepticons, and even each other.
During one heist sequence, a nun clips a chainmail veil over her face and takes out about 10 menacing guards in a hallway fight scene that’s like something out of Oldboy. Another episode follows two sisters (one of whom is named Shotgun Mary, sick) as they hunt Ava down, battling each other along the way, one of them meaning to kill Ava and remove the Halo that way, and the other insisting that she must join their order of her own volition.
The show is based on the American manga-style comic book character Warrior Nun Areala, who was created by Ben Dunn in 1994. In the comic series, Areala was a Valkyrie who renounced her pagan beliefs in 1066 and turned to Jesus Christ for salvation, and since then has returned to every generation of warriors by choosing a mortal avatar to bear her soul.
The series is both popular and controversial, some Christians taking issue with the comics appropriating Catholic imagery and others side-eyeing the series’ habit of presenting the Catholic Church as a force only for historical good.
Netflix’s show, on the other hand, in giving the warrior nun powers to a non-religious character, is able to be a little bit less biased, suggesting that, in this universe, the Christian Heaven and Hell are in fact real while also allowing Ava to choose her path less because of a duty to the Catholic Church alone, and more because of the respect she comes to feel for her comrades and the calling to protect her world from evil in general. Amen to that.