The School for Good and Evil is now streaming on Netflix.
By Greg Wheeler
The School for Good and Evil follows the story of Sophie and Agatha as they find themselves transported to the titular school. The twist is that the princess-like Sophie lands in the gothic, fog-covered School for Evil while Agatha is dropped in a literal bed of roses at the School for Good.
From the very beginning, the movie claims to subvert tropes. It sets up the school’s blatant binary with all the promise of dismantling it piece by piece. Unfortunately, it does not make good on its promise. Agatha’s arguments against the school are painfully obvious and the entire conflict is oversimplified. In fact, the words ‘good’, ‘evil’, ‘beauty’, and ‘ugliness’ are so overused that you tire of hearing them by the middle mark.
The movie tries to address several different themes — from the difference between good and evil to impossible expectations levied on youngsters to the power of friendship. But each of these gets a perfunctory treatment without any space for discussion or depth.
In fact, in a laughable moment of irony, characters undergo a switch between good and evil and all that changes are their attire! Pastels and royal gold for the good and black attire for the evil. The newly evil now sport scars on their faces in the name of ugliness. For all its dwelling on beauty and ugliness, the film never completes its argument on physical appearances at all. By the end, the subject is merely pushed aside.
And despite dressing itself up as a critique of fairy tales, the movie still falls prey to certain clichés. One of the most glaring ones is the trope of the male lead falling for the girl who ‘isn’t like the rest’.
Not only does the film fail to stand out amongst a sea of fantasy media but it is too devoid of substance, particularly for a piece of young adult entertainment. YA fiction has always been far more complex and nuanced than this film gives the genre credit for.
Like much of the movie, the world building too feels flat and hollow. Sophie and Agatha are thrown right into the school but they never explore the world beyond it. The movie is chock full of references to well-known fairy-tale characters but not more than a few lines are spent on delving into the world or how it functions. Even the magic is conveniently vague, with no rules or specificity within which to work. Considering it is meant to be the place of origin for so many beloved stories, there was plenty of potential to make it interesting.
Our main leads are compelling and fun to root for but neither has a fulfilling character arc, at least not a convincing one. The rest of the cast, a shockingly star-studded one at that, don’t have much to do beyond the very specific roles they play. While the performances themselves are top-notch, none of the characters gets the depth they deserve. It’s a feat, considering the bloated run time of 2 hours and 27 minutes.
But where the writing is weak, the visuals somewhat make up for it. Among the usual glowing bursts of light, we get some impressive blood magic and a scene where a girl’s dragon tattoo comes alive right off her shoulder. However, there are a few misses in this department too. At one point a statue of cupid comes alive as a toddler and it looks straight out of the uncanny valley. The toddler then transforms into a grizzly man who chases Agatha. It seems they were trying to replicate Hogwarts’ labyrinth of dangerous objects and creatures but it was far from the same effect.
The film ends in an all too convenient manner. Everything wraps up, mistakes are forgiven, and relationships are mended, with no need for any explanation. It’s needed to be said that the story was well-intentioned, trying to show that people aren’t purely good or bad, they’re simply human. But the narrative failed not only this intention but also the efforts of a stunning cast and some talented VFX artists, leaving The School for Good and Evil more of an aesthetic than a story with a meaningful message.
I give The School for Good and Evil a D.