Netflix’s Magical Fantasy Adaptation ‘The School for Good and Evil’ Falls Short – Review
The latest epic fantasy adaptation comes to us from Netflix. School for Good and Evil originated in 2013 as a book series by author Soman Chainani. The potential franchise starter follows Agatha and Sophie of Gavaldon (Sofia Wylie and Sophia Anne Caruso) and features an all-star supporting cast that will certainly lure audiences in, including Cate Blanchett, Kerry Washington, Charlize Theron, Rachel Bloom, Michelle Yeoh, and Laurence Fishburne, to name a few.
From this point forward, this review will contain mild spoilers for Netflix’s The School for Good and Evil.
I was incredibly excited to watch this movie when I first saw the trailer. It teased a retelling of the fairytale stories we already know, hinting that several famous heroes and villains we know originated from these two schools. It also teased a story arc that would challenge the binary notions of good and evil that we’ve been told for years. The movie showcased the talents of several amazing actors who were sure to shine in their roles. It really drew me in with everything it promised: interesting story and theme concepts, fantastic acting, and a magical realm that would be somewhat familiar but fresh. However, upon watching the movie, much of the allure from the trailer fell apart, and the fairytale fantasy failed to meet its magical expectations.
As the leads, Caruso and Wylie have great chemistry together. To be honest, I rooted for them to be a romantic pairing more so than either protagonist with their respective love interests that the movie pushed. The dynamic between them as childhood best friends, where it was them against the world, instantly made me root for their relationship to persevere and win out in the end.
However, between the two, Wylie truly held her own as the empathetic and strong-willed Agatha. From the get-go, she was the one to pay attention to. Of all the characters, Agatha was the most successfully complex and interesting character, and Wylie did a phenomenal job portraying that. However, the writing pushed her into the trope of being “not like other girls,” but her portrayal made that trope tolerable. On the flip side, I found Caruso’s performance as Sophie lacklustre and one-dimensional which I attribute to both her acting and the writing. Much of Sophie’s character was flat despite her arc theoretically being more exciting and complex. Her character’s desires made no sense, and I was never fully convinced by her storyline. Overall led me to get distracted each time Caruso took center stage.
The rest of the cast shined in their roles as seasoned actors. Theron as Lady Lesso and Washington as Lady Dovey made an interesting duo as the deans of the School of Evil and the School of Good, respectively. Fishburne, as the Headmaster, was wise yet cunning, and his role supported the talent of Kit Young, who portrayed the twins Rhian and Rafal, who held the balance between good and evil. Michelle Yeoh had few lines and limited screen time, but I enjoyed seeing her whenever she appeared.
I found the story cluttered and messy. Too many fantasy plots, tropes, and cliches were stuffed in–all the things I usually would have enjoyed in other settings and media. However, so much was thrown in at once, making the dialogue and one-liners cheesy, predictable, and sometimes cringe-worthy. The story’s central theme is that there is no “truly good” or “truly evil.” However, the execution of this message could have been more concise and easier to enjoy. Then, the pacing of the movie also dragged on the whole experience. The first two hours were long and slow, while the central conflict was quickly resolved within 10 minutes. This movie’s problems with the muddled storyline and the choppy pacing could have been resolved had this been an episodic series rather than a 2.5-hour movie.
The movie has several elements of a great fantasy story except for a decent execution. The talent of Wylie as Agatha and many seasoned actors also carried most of my enjoyment of the film. If you like overly cheesy, cliched movies, it’s probably worth a watch, especially for casual viewing. As someone who has never read the books, I cannot say how faithful the adaptation was to the written content. However, as a fan of fantasy and plots that challenge the typical expectations of morality, the movie fell short. If there is to be a sequel to continue the book-to-movie adaptations of the novel series, enough lore foundation has been placed that will hopefully resolve some of the execution of the next film.