The School for Good and Evil (Review) – J.K. Rowling Should Call Her Lawyers

DIRECTOR: Paul Feig

CAST: Sophia Anne Caruso, Sofia Wylie, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Flatters, Kit Young, Peter Serafinowicz, Kerry Washington, Charlize Theron, Cate Blanchett, Patti LuPone, Rob Delaney, Rachel Bloom, Earl Cave, Freya Parks, Demi Isaac Oviawe, Kaitlyn Akinpelumi, Mark Heap, Briony Scarlett, Chinenye Ezeudu, Rosie Graham, Joelle

RUNNING TIME: 147 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: Two friends (Caruso and Wylie) find themselves on opposite sides when they are whisked away to a fantastical school…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Remember that period during the early 2000s when, in the wake of Harry Potter’s successful transition to the big screen, studios were churning out several other young-adult fantasy adaptations to replicate that success? Y’know, films like Eragon, The Golden Compass, Inkheart, The Spiderwick Chronicles, and too many others to list here? So do the makers of The School for Good and Evil, a shamelessly Potter-baiting YA fantasy movie based on the book series by Soman Chainani, adapted by director and co-writer Paul Feig as a two-and-a-half hour (!) movie for Netflix – and, in keeping with an alarming amount of big-budget Netflix originals this year, it’s yet another high-concept production with tons of money and talent on the screen, but little to no actual movie magic behind it.

The story takes place in a fantasy world where young people are apparently snatched up by giant skeleton birds, with pretty much no cause for alarm amongst civilians that there are children being abducted from their homes and families, and flown to the titular educational establishment where they are placed on either side and taught to become heroes or villains. The two latest enrolments are best friends Sophie (Sophia Anne Caruso), a wannabe princess with a desire to change the world, and Agatha (Sofia Wylie), a more sullen outcast who the townsfolk believe to be a witch, who are cast away when they attempt to leave their normal lives behind; unfortunately, the two of them are placed in the wrong schools, seemingly by mistake, with Agatha ending up in the School for Good, run by the peppy Professor Dovey (Kerry Washington), and Sophie being dropped into the School for Evil, with its own dean Lady Lesso (Charlize Theron). Despite their insistence that they’ve been put in the wrong faculties, they soon discover that they are indeed where they belong, and begin to embrace that in different ways – although Sophie, who’s always believed herself to be good at heart, goes down a much darker path than anyone might have anticipated.

I’ve not read the original book (as is the case with most adaptations of things), but taking away everything else for a moment, there are some okay ideas underneath the surface. For one, it’s interesting that this is a world that doesn’t restrict itself to one lore, but several; King Arthur, Captain Hook, and the Sheriff of Nottingham are all just some of the heroes and villains who are not only name-dropped, but are said to have been former students at this school, which is a concept that, if done well, could be a particularly fascinating mish-mash of several stories and characters that isn’t dissimilar to what they tried doing with Once Upon a Time all those years ago.

Unfortunately, that is the only part of The School for Good and Evil that even comes close to being interesting. The rest of it is one of the most derivative things I’ve seen in years, stealing from so many other sources that to list all of them would seriously take up half of this review. Chief among the lot is Harry Potter, which takes so much from that series of films like the production design, level of effects work, costumes, character arcs and so forth, that it’s a wonder that J.K. Rowling’s army of lawyers haven’t already sent a cease and desist to Netflix. You’ll be far more distracted by how identical certain sets are to the ones at Hogwarts (the building itself is practically a mirror image of how Rowling’s loch-overlooking school looks) than you will at any moment care about the main plot, or its frighteningly bland characters. Feig and co-writer David Magee’s script is bogged down by endless exposition that drones on and on about how this establishment is supposed to work, which makes the whole thing feel more tiresome and far less magical than the sum of its parts, and prevents you from really getting behind any of these characters who are predominantly paint-by-numbers when it comes to their own needs and wants. At times, you’ll be wishing that you were just watching any of the better-plotted and more character-centric Harry Potter movies instead, because that’s pretty much what the overall aesthetic is causing you to think anyway.

This is also one of those fantasy movies where you are constantly questioning the logic behind this universe, and its lack of answers makes things far more difficult to get behind it. Mentioned earlier was the fact that there are giant skeletal birds coming down every now and then to snatch up young teens, yet nobody in this village that’s already spooked by potential witches and other outcasts seems to care, but that doesn’t even compare to when we finally get to this school itself. For instance, if students on both sides are not meant to fraternise or develop relationships with one another, then why are they constantly allowed to share the same dining hall where they inevitably socialise? How come the side of the school that is supposed to be for good, honest heroes has bullies like in a typical high school movie? What crackhead thought it was a good idea to test students’ purity by trapping them in a deadly forest with carnivorous flowers and a slasher-movie scarecrow creature, where the odds of them being killed horribly are greater than them surviving at all? Yes, the Harry Potter movies had a lot of stuff that didn’t add up either, especially when it came to students’ overall safety, but they at least felt consistent with the story, whereas The School for Good and Evil – both the school AND the film – feels like it’s constantly making stuff up as it goes along, with no rhyme or reason, or even that much logical sense, poured into telling this overly long and elaborate tale that, at the end of the day, you just don’t care about.

Like a lot of Netflix’s original films this year, there are plenty of talented people on board for this – you can tell that the actors are really trying, and Paul Feig is known to have a better grasp on comedy and entertainment than this affair, which features virtually none – but for all that money and star wattage, it’s a frustratingly empty corporate product that will only appeal to those who are nostalgic for those types of Potter knock-offs from the mid to late 2000s, but even then there won’t be much to read about.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The School for Good and Evil is a waste of time, talent and money, all of which has been poured into an extremely derivative Harry Potter rip-off that makes little to no sense, and is so bogged down by exposition and overly bland characters that not even its target audience will be entertained by it.

The School for Good and Evil is now available to stream on Netflix.

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