The title says it all. The grand finale for the Netflix original series Sense8 is called Amor Vincit Omnia, the famous Latin phrase that translates to Love Conquers All. If you know anything about the series, you know how well that phrase describes the show as a whole. It’s a fitting title for the last adventure in a series about extraordinary human connection, empathy, and above all, love.
For the purposes of this review, I’m treating Amor Vincit Omnia as a standalone movie, instead of an episode of television, because that’s really what it is. The series, while critically acclaimed, didn’t garner enough viewers for Netflix. The scope of the show required a larger-than-usual budget for the streaming service. The huge costs and small audience caused Netflix to cancel Sense8 after two seasons, consisting of 23 episodes.
The response from the impassioned fanbase was to start a social media campaign to get the show renewed. That didn’t happen, but the creators of Sense8 – the Wachowski sisters and J. Michael Straczynski – worked out a deal with Netflix to resolve the major season two cliffhanger and bring a sense of closure to the series. The result is a two-and-a-half-hour long spectacle that has an even more cinematic feel than each episode of the show.
Sense8 tells the globe-spanning story of eight individuals who discover that they are different from regular Homo sapiens. They are sensates, people who are linked telepathically and share a unique and inseparable bond with those inside their cluster. Over the course of the series, we discover there are hundreds – perhaps thousands – of clusters in existence. While every sensate can share the telepathic connection, the sensates inside each cluster are even more intimately linked.
The cluster at the heart of Sense8 consists of: Capheus in Nairobi; Sun in Seoul; Nomi in San Francisco; Kala in Mumbai; Riley in London, who is originally from Iceland; Wolfgang in Berlin; Lito in Mexico City; and Will in Chicago. Because each sensate can visit the others telepathically, as though they are in the same room, many conversations take place in two – and often more – places. Considering that it shot on location in each of the cities listed above, it’s easy to understand why Sense8’s budget was too big for Netflix to continue the series.
The main conflict of Sense8 involves the villain known as Whispers, a ruthless man who works for the nefarious BPO corporation. Whispers wants to capture as many sensates as possible because he wants to use their special talents for BPO’s benefit. The show, and to a large extent the finale movie, focus on our cluster trying to avoid capture while also playing offense by attempting to destroy BPO.
While the plot machinations of what BPO wants to do with the sensates is compelling, if at times convoluted, it was always a distant second to what I enjoyed so much about Sense8. During the show, and here in Amor Vincit Omnia, the real draw are the characters. Getting to know them, love them, and spend time with them is a very rewarding experience. The movie is aware of that, so while it does spend time concluding the sensates’ struggle with BPO – season two ended with one of our heroes in the clutches of Whispers – we get a glorious amount of time for these characters to interact with one another.
In addition to being able to talk telepathically across the world, the cluster is also able to act through each other’s bodies. This comes in quite handy when one member of the cluster needs a skill that another member has. It’s great fun to see Will, who is a cop, lend his skill with a gun to Kala, a scientist who ordinarily wouldn’t know the first thing about handling a deadly weapon. This also leads to something new in Amor Vincit Omnia that we never really saw in the show. Some of the friends and family of cluster members learn about these special powers during the series, but a lot of laughs and awkward situations were mined from others being kept in the dark. For the first time, the movie brings everyone together in the same place. It introduces an exciting and different dynamic that stretches beyond what we got in the show.
This mixing of characters who were separated, until the movie, on different continents allows for some brilliant moments. Lito’s friend (and former beard) Daniela gets a scene with Whispers that shows us just how much of a badass she can be.
There are, however, a few missteps in the screenplay that result from rounding up all the characters. There is some clumsy exposition near the beginning of the film when a few characters need to be filled in on BPO. Lana Wachowski, who wrote the script with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon, feel the need to re-explain how the sensates’ powers work to the characters who don’t already know. It’s an odd choice, considering why the movie was made. Surely no one who’s watching needs the primer. In fact, there’s text just before the final credits that reads, “For the fans.”
It’s worth it, though, to see non-sensate characters meet sensates who have only been described to them before now. In some ways Amor Vincit Omnia feels like a big family reunion; one where you meet people for the first time, but with whom you nevertheless feel a strong connection.
Because this is the Wachowskis, who only really feel at home when conjuring epic sci-fi mind-benders like Cloud Atlas, this movie includes the requisite amount of big-budget action set pieces. There is one particularly effective sequence that involves an attempted hostage exchange in a night club. The strobing lights and pulsing music add an intensity to a scene that would be right at home up on the big screen. A shoot-out in the last act that begins with the cluster on a tourist bus is meticulous in its choreography. It serves as a reminder that Sense8 is brought to you by the people responsible for the larger-than-life quality of the Matrix trilogy.
Sometimes that comes with action movie clichés that feel tired. There are many instances where you never need to worry about the bad guys having anything resembling good aim. There is also a moment when I thought the filmmakers would follow through on some major dramatic stakes with the death of a character, but they reverse course. I almost expected someone to look at the damage wrought by a bullet and exclaim, “Why, this is only a FLESH WOUND!”
Despite that, it was still a delight to spend a few more hours with my favorite cluster in Amor Vincit Omnia. What’s so exciting about the idea behind, and execution of, Sense8 is that it feels like the future of entertainment. When people talk about inclusivity and diversity in television and film, Sense8 is what they are talking about. With a multiracial cast from around the world, and a focus on sexuality from every part of the continuum, Sense8 is an idea that’s time has come.
This is one of the few shows on TV (streaming or otherwise) that had the sensitivity to cast an actual transgender woman in a transgender role. In addition to Jamie Clayton’s strong performance, the exploration and journey of that character, Nomi, was so rich because Lana Wachowski herself has gone through the gender confirmation process. She was able to bring a unique perspective to the writing of Nomi. When more diverse voices like the Wachowskis are included in the creation of our entertainment, the outcome will be more thrilling and exciting stories like Sense8.
Why it got 4 stars:
- As a fan of the show, this was a satisfying and fun way to close out the story and say goodbye to characters I loved. It also almost works as a stand-alone movie. The exposition early in the film, while clunky, could bring someone who is new to the story up to speed. There are plot threads that would leave those sorts of viewers confused, but they could still enjoy the intense action on a purely cinematic level.
Things I forgot to mention in my review, because, well, I'm the Forgetful Film Critic:
- One section of the movie that I didn't get a chance to mention concerns a character called The Mother, a sort of super-sensate who can bend the regular rules when communicating with her kind. Her powers are never really explained, you just have to sort of roll with it. The Wachowskis love this kind of god-figure who understands everything and presents a grand unifying explanation to all that's come before it. The movie inexplicably drops the character and plot thread, leaving me to wonder if we were supposed to see more, but it got cut for time.
- The filmmakers somehow managed to pack a whole season's worth of content into two-and-a-half hours. That might sound like I'm being derisive, but they pull it off. Each episode of the show had a lot going on as well, so the movie feels busy in the same Sense8-y way.
- One plot thread that does suffer because the movie doesn't have more time to explore it is Kala's husband's reaction to learning she is in love with one of the member's of her cluster. He is never given time to have a believable arc when confronted with the news, and his reaction felt much too rushed and convenient.
- The denouement in Amor Vincit Omnia is one of the most emotionally satisfying I've ever experienced. There is one final scene after it, and while it did make me feel the long running time even more, it was a must to close out the show. Sense8 was famous for it's liberal use of sexuality, and the end scene of the movie pays homage to that.
Close encounters with people who don't know how to act in a movie theater:
- No theatrical release for this one, so I was at home in my 80% complete home theater. (When I watched the movie, I still needed to add black-out curtains for total light control. Now, I just need to finish decorating, and add a few other movie theater touches and it will be done!) Aside from the dog barking a few times, this was an excellent viewing experience.
Up Next at The Forgetful Film Critic:
- Sorry to Bother You has generated a huge amount of buzz on the festival circuit, and the trailer makes it look like a crazy ride. I can't wait to see it. It's the first movie from Boots Riley, who before now was known primarily as a rapper. It stars two people who are currently among my absolute favorite performers: Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson.