The most prominent wicked force in The School for Good and Evil wants to eradicate the educational institution forever and all the characters that inhabit it. Once that was revealed, I found myself rooting for the villain’s plot to succeed. That would mean no sequels to this misguided and criminally long Netflix adaptation of Soman Chainani’s 2013 fantasy novel. There’s been several follow-ups to the written work. I won’t hold back my wish to see no more of the adventures that Cate Blanchett’s narration can’t even save.
A prologue hints at the convoluted and overstuffed plot and unimpressive CG to come. Brothers Rhian and Rafal (both played by Kit Young) have formed The School for Good and Evil (even the title could use some imagination). It’s essentially a training ground for youngsters to become players in well-known fairytales. Rafal soon double-crosses his sibling and wants all the unholy power to… be more evil? Change the happy endings of our celebrated books to tragic ones? The stakes were never clear to me or perhaps I just stopped caring.
Many moons later and away from the school in a small village, Sophie (Sophia Anne Caruso) is obsessed with princesses like Cinderella. Bored with her surroundings, she longs for acceptance to the fantastical academy. Her best friend is Agatha (Sofia Wylie) and the townspeople are convinced she’s a witch. Unlike Sophie, she has no designs on attending anywhere where Evil would likely be her team. Soon enough, they are transported there and (surprise!) Agatha is dropped off on the Good side with Sophie on the Evil one.
The friends are certain their assignments are a mistake. The School Master (Laurence Fishburne), Good School Professor Dovey (Kerry Washington), and Evil Department Head Leonora Lesso (Charlize Theron) aren’t so sure. Errors such as this don’t occur. Beyond their placements, there’s an Ivy League vibe happening with legacy admissions. Sons of Prince Charming and King Arthur are undergrads. The latter is Tedros (Jamie Flatters) and Sophie wants to prove her Princess bonafides by charming him. Yet he might have eyes for Agatha.
Much of the film is devoted to Sophie and Agatha figuring out their roles at the school. The nearly 150 minute runtime to do so is bloated. Paul Feig, director of Bridesmaids and A Simple Favor, knows how to keep comedies and satirical mysteries moving at a reasonably snappy pace. That’s a skill forgotten in this overstuffed and often garish looking experience. Only Wylie’s performance is worth a bit of praise. I know overacting is supposed to happen in this genre but with a poor screenplay, it’s not a good look for a lot of the cast (that includes Theron and Washington).
When the students achieve their magical abilities, their fingers illuminate. Kinda like E.T.! Unlike that 40-year-old alien’s pic, what’s missing is the sense of wonder. The third act culminates at a fancy ball where a campy vibe and halfway decent makeup effects hint at what could’ve been. In case you couldn’t tell, I didn’t have a ball at The School for Good and Evil.
*1/2 (out of four)