Directed by: Paul Feig
Distributed by: Netflix
Written by Anna Harrison
Regardless of how the franchise has floundered in recent years, there is something (quite a lot, actually) to be said for the original “Harry Potter” movies. It is no small feat to introduce an audience to such a big world and then make them fall in love with both it and the characters, and the slew of half-hearted adaptations of young adult or kids books that came after, now including “The School for Good and Evil,” only proves that the success of “Potter” is not so easily replicated, try as Paul Feig might. It’s not that “The School for Good and Evil” is bad, per se, just that it’s overstuffed, overlong, and none too intriguing… so maybe it is bad.
The plot, underneath all its trappings, is quite simple: at the School for Good and Evil, where future heroes and villains get all the proper training needed to fulfill that role, two best friends suddenly find themselves separated. Sophie (Sophia Anne Caruso of “Beetlejuice” on Broadway fame) finds herself at the School for Evil, whilst Agatha (Sofia Wylie) is dumped at the School for Good; this confuses both of them, as Sophie is a Cinderella wannabe whilst Agatha, though pure of heart, likes to wear black and do witchy things. Then it gets more complicated: the two find themselves caught up in a decades-long evil plot whose specifics I have already forgotten, but it involves the school master’s (Laurence Fishburne) brother, Rafal (Kit Young from “Shadow and Bone”), as he uses Sophie’s insecurities for his own ends.
But then there are the classes, the love triangle, and the didactic nature of the school itself, which all pile on top of one another until the movie is bursting at the seams. While the message of the film is simplistic (everyone has moral complexity), it feels caught between age groups: the theme is aimed at children, but there are moments of violence and disturbing images that would frighten said children, and so this morality play has no audience except, maybe, fans of the book series.
Yet despite the overarching message, the film seems to visually abide by the very rules which both Sophie and Agatha call out: though the whole point of the movie is that people are more than just Good or Evil, it’s still possible for characters to turn from one side to another, in which case they will either gain luscious locks and nice clothing if they turn Good, or dress all in black and become scarred. (As one character slowly becomes evil—even before she becomes a total hag—she wears a prosthetic to make her nose look bigger. Yeah, nothing to see here, that’s all fine, don’t worry about it!) Yeah, the costumes are fun, but… what… is the point… of actually having Good and Evil mean something if the whole point of your movie is that it shouldn’t? Am I missing something here?
Morality issues with the makeup and costuming departments aside, it’s just hard to care about any of these characters. Sophie, in particular, is hugely annoying, and her descent to the dark side is . Everyone is annoying. Charlize Theron, Kerry Washington, and Michelle Yeoh are all great actors, and they are all annoying in this. The worldbuilding is flimsy and doesn’t hold up to even fantasy world logic (I really could not tell you a single damn thing about how this world functions), and there’s also a fight scene set to “Toxic.” Take that as you will, but that made me bring the score down from 40 to 30 and greatly diminished any goodwill I had towards the film for being juuuust fun enough to not be horrible. For a film about a magic school, there is surprisingly little magic. Hogwarts, it ain’t.
“The School for Good and Evil” Trailer