Sunday, 16 August 2020

The Legend Of The Five (2020) - Movie Review

Considering the shitstorm currently surrounding J.K. Rowling (and by extension the Harry Potter franchise), part of me really wanted to give this a go. A throwback to first-wave ‘magical Earth hero saving a mystical land’ YA storytelling, and made in my own backyard to boot (not literally, although given the production values of these Aussie indie efforts, you’d be forgiven for assuming so), this definitely piqued my interest. And while there’s definitely some good to it, it’s also incredibly muddled.

Starting out on a good note, the production values are actually pretty solid here. The camera quality and framing from DOP Casimir Dickson keep a lightly fantastical air to the screen (save for the odd green-screen moment, which might rank as some of the worst I’ve ever covered on here), Dominic Cabusi and Bronte Maree O’Neill’s soundtrack work follows suit, and even though most of the film takes place in a generic magical forest, credit to everyone on hand that it fits both the tone and the underlying message of the story.

Then we get into the characters… wait, sorry, I mean ““““““““““characters””””””””””. It seems like writer Peter McLeod got a little wrapped up in the narrative to give enough mind to the characters living through it. Not to say that it’s all bad (hell, I’d argue that when it gets into genuine character building, that’s when the film is at its best); just that it’s painfully inconsistent. Lauren Esposito’s Zoe gets the lion’s share of the development, and she carries it well, but Caitlin Fisher’s Gabi and Nicholas Andrianakos’ Javier end up with only a single scene each. To say nothing of Leigh Joel Scott’s Owen and Deborah An’s Kaylee, who don’t even get that much. They all fit into Breakfast Club-style archetypes (almost to the letter for some of them), but like most copycats, it misses the transcendence moments that makes them work.

Honestly, it reminds me a lot of the fantasy stories I used to write in high school, incidentally where I first used the moniker of Mahan. I also wrote about high schoolers who end up gaining elemental powers. Nothing in here about a giant brain living in a cave, or a gang of crazed knights holding a town ransom, or a royal advisor made entirely of scissors, but… let’s just say that there’s a certain generic sheen to the overall story here, and the way it rushes through encounters and major plot points really does remind me of when I tried writing ‘books’ that were only a few pages long.

Doesn’t help that the glimpses we do get of this particular fantasy world are extremely mixed. On one hand, it’s got a certain environmentalist leaning and messaging about not letting the darkness take over, but on the other, you’ve got farting gnomes and deus ex fairies. There are also characters like the Gatekeeper (who is more at-home in The Mighty Boosh than he is here) and the Weaver and Unweaver (whose double-act is egregiously annoying), all of whom make this feel like a mish-mash of different fantasy takes. There’s more than a little Labyrinth in the pacing, like with the numerous puzzles and challenges the main group has to get through, not to mention the quirkiness of the magical creatures, but it doesn’t have the memorability to work through that oddity.

And then there’s how magic is portrayed here... or, rather, not portrayed. With the main conceit of the lead characters having elemental powers, I won’t lie, I was kind of expecting some Airbender-style flashiness. Yeah, the lower budget might rule that out, but that itself doesn’t excuse how what we actually get is both vague and even nonexistent in places. In line with the characterisation, we either get interesting ideas that don’t get fleshed out properly, or complete absence of explanation and even portrayal of said magic. I mean, Aether gets described as ‘being able to read anything’; the magic system is really underdeveloped, especially for something so central to the main plot.

I don’t know whether to chalk this film’s bigger problems up to lack of budget or lack of ability, as I see glimpses of both being used right every so often, but that doesn’t change how bland and rushed this feels. It is as generic as the title makes it sound, which is quite disappointing. The sequel-hinting at the end didn’t help either, as I’m really starting to get annoyed by this ‘made for the series’ attitude to genre cinema.

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