Amazon Studios has the rights to adapt Warhammer 40,000 into “series, movies and more”, a project that Henry Cavill will produce and star in. Cavill called it “a Warhammer Cinematic Universe” on Instagram, which sounds like we should expect multiple stories. Assuming Cavill doesn’t play every role in all of them — a one-man fringe production that I’d actually watch — he’ll be able to play a character from any setting. So who should it be?
The obvious thing to do with 40K is to tell a story about Space Marines. The set’s signature visual is a burly boy with a helmet that resembles medieval siege architecture and shoulder pads the size of a family sedan. However, it is difficult to give a cast composed of space marines interesting personalities. They are indoctrinated, monastic, barely human and only exist to fight. There’s not a lot of variety there. The First Attempt at Making a 40K Movie, Direct to DVD Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie (opens in a new tab) as of 2010, struggled to differentiate its grizzled cast.
That said, when Marvel got the rights to do 40K in comic book form, they knocked it out of the park. Much like the CGI movie, the five-issue miniseries Marneus Calgar (opens in a new tab) was about the Ultramarines, who don’t have the oversized Chapter personalities like the techno-Viking Space Wolves. Still, it gave Chapter Master Calgar plenty of humanity via flashbacks to his pre-Marine days, and provided scaled human characters. Pages of gory ultra-violence were balanced by an accompanying Calgar follower who could react to the horror of the Marines’ everyday life. Something similar, or even a direct adaptation with Cavill as Calgar, could definitely work.
Since Amazon’s 40K will be an introduction for many people to Games Workshop’s gothic-industrial science-fantasy setting, another possibility would be a new character and storyline. Something introductory, meant to take this thing that’s been around for 35 years in different permutations, sometimes very different permutations and make it digestible. Which is an almost impossible task. Space, as you know, is big, and Warhammer 40,000 encompasses multiple alien empires and a whole other dimension of haunted reality, as well as a human Imperium that’s incredibly vast in its own right.
One option would be an episodic series that examines the setting in individual installments. Have Cavill play a ship captain or rogue trader with a motley crew and send them across the galaxy to fight and die in space. Take a look at the Warhammer TV Kill Command animation (opens in a new tab)which you can watch for free on YouTube, for an example of the seriousness of the situation.
The first time our fantasy show crew encounters one of the most fantastical elements of the setting – like the aeldari, who are basically space elves, or the orks, who are literally space orcs , or just outright demons – that might sound like shocking a new audience, but the thing with a serialized show is you can do a horror episode or a comedy or whatever and then go back to the story that you were telling before. Each journey into a different genre is safely quarantined between intro and credits.
Taking Warhammer 40,000 and turning it into a version of Star Trek where everyone is a tough bastard and the ship looks like an explosion at the Catholic factory doesn’t really light my fire, though. You don’t need the 40K license to produce another spaceship show. If you want something that definitely feels like 40K, the easiest way to do that is to adapt one of the stories that defined it. And hey, if you paid for an entire universe, why not grab its best bits?
One of the most popular 40K novel series is the Eisenhorn Saga, which is about an Inquisitor who recounts his Chaos investigations as a dark detective. It’s so obvious to adapt that it’s already done, Big Light Productions recovering the rights in 2019.
This production may have died quietly in the years since, in which case it could be up for grabs again, or it may be included with “rights to the universe across series, movies and more” guaranteed. by Amazon Studios. If so, Cavill would make a good Eisenhorn. He had experience playing a detective in Enola Holmes, but unsmiling horror-hunter Gregor Eisenhorn is actually closer to another Cavill role: Geralt of Rivia.
Fans have suggested another suitable role for Cavill would be Ciaphas Cain, from a series of books about an Imperial Guard Commissar whose attempts to cover up his cowardice see him mistaken for a true hero and turned into a propaganda weapon. Cain’s square-jawed appearance and knack for surviving impossible odds make him look like the perfect poster boy for the Imperium, even if he’s too soft on his troops and too afraid of dying to truly personify the Imperium. the Imperium’s grotesque ideal of severe self-sacrifice.
I could definitely see a man who looks like Cavill being mistaken for an ideal, and in smaller roles like Humphrey in Stardust he’s shown the ability to go comic twittery when needed. The problem with the Ciaphas Cain stories is that after a promising start, the series begins to treat Cain like a man who just thinks he’s a coward, but acts like a hero when the chips are down and things get tough. jostle. And in 40K, the tokens are still falling and the push is still jostling.
They are also quite stereotypical, both in their plots and in the frequency with which the same phrases are repeated. You could make a decent drinking game from how often Cain refers to his tingling palms, or sensing his unwashed assistant approaching before he saw him, or that he wouldn’t have done what he is about to do if he had known how it would all turn out in the end.
Of course, an adaptation doesn’t need his repetitive storytelling or his transformation into an invincible badass who just happens to be a bit pragmatic. People who make three-hour YouTube videos of how books of ruin wouldn’t like that, but taking the basic concept of Ciaphas Cain’s stories and making something better out of it could be a fun way to showcase the frame and show that 40K is capable of having a sense of humor rather than being grim all the time.
Something that isn’t made clear in Games Workshop’s announcement is whether the Amazon deal includes Horus Heresy, a prequel series set 10,000 years before Warhammer 40,000, which GW tends to treat as a separate thing. . If the deal includes the Horus heresy, that changes things. For starters, it opens up the possibility of persistent fan-casting of Cavill as the Emperor of Mankind.
I can’t say I would be in favor of that, though. The Emperor’s psychic abilities mean he looks different to different people, resembling whatever they want him to appear, which would be nice to portray by having multiple actors in the role. When we see the Big E in unguarded moments, he’s always portrayed as brown, tan, golden, or basically a lot of skin colors that aren’t Cavill’s, but belong to actors who might get the opportunity to play an important role.
And there are plenty of more fitting roles in The Horus Heresy, which features a ridiculously sized cast. The most popular characters tend to be the Primarchs. These experimental demigods served as the genetic source for the Space Marines, but unlike their typically stoic descendants, the Primarchs are larger-than-life exaggerations, mythical figures whose moods are legendary. I prefer to see Cavill as one of them. Perhaps the noble, condemned, angelic, Sanguinius or the obsessive perfectionist Fulgrim. Although that would mean another white wig.
As with Ciaphas Cain, an adaptation would present an opportunity to fix the issues with the books. In the case of the Horus heresy, their greatest sin is their numbers. There are 54 books in the core series, which was later renamed and continued as The Siege of Terra, currently seven books deep and with a finale that has been split into two more books to come. That’s 62 books, not including the 17 novels and four anthologies in the Primarchs spin-off series, or the audio dramas, short stories, and graphic novel.
When the backstory of this period event was first detailed in the 1988 rulebook Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness, it took three pages. Without art, it would have held on two.
There’s enough material in The Horus Heresy to make a decent TV show, of course, just one show noticeably shorter than the books. (Reading all the audiobooks back to back could take a good month (opens in a new tab).) When you read the first three books of Horus Heresy, a tight trilogy well worth your time, you can imagine what shape the rest of the series might have taken. Instead, those books billed as niche luxuries became bestsellers, and the series expanded far beyond what it needed. Still, distill it down to edited highlights and you’ll get several seasons of drama from the fall of Horus and the war that turned the Imperium into a fascist theocracy.
Something the novels have struggled to convey is the tragedy of the fall of Horus. His name is in the title, we all know what will happen to him, and it’s hard to see him as the beloved statesman and general he is in the early stories, before the preordained betrayal. It’s an ideal role for the man whose face is so trustworthy that he was cast as Superman. Have Cavill as Horus, the Emperor’s best boy-turned-greatest enemy, in a big-budget, prestige TV series. I would watch that.