Damsel Review

Millie Bobby Brown leads a rousing modern take on fairy tales that is full of action from beginning to end.

PLOT: A dutiful damsel agrees to marry a handsome prince, only to find the royal family has recruited her as a sacrifice to repay an ancient debt. Thrown into a cave with a fire-breathing dragon, she must rely on her wits and will to survive.

REVIEW: The idea of the anti-fairy tale is nothing new. From the grounded Cinderella tale Ever After starring Drew Barrymore to the John Wick-inspired The Princess starring Joey King, outdated stories of helpless maidens needing to be rescued by Prince Charming have lost their appeal in recent years. With empowerment narratives sometimes going too far in the opposite direction, striking a balance between good storytelling without archaic stereotypes is a tricky endeavor. While Disney has tried to flip the script with animated projects like Frozen or the live-action Maleficent, Netflix has delivered an update to the age-old stories of dragons, royalty, and knights with their dark fantasy Damsel. Led by Millie Bobby Brown, Damsel is a rousing adventure that is full of action, blood, and fire. While it may not be a new benchmark for the modern fairy tale story, it is a solid genre outing that is fun from beginning to end.

With much of Damsel’s narrative twist spoiled in the trailer, you likely already know that the story follows Lord Bayford (Ray Winstone) and his daughters Elodie (Millie Bobby Brown) and Floria (Brooke Carter) as well as their stepmother (Angela Bassett). With their realm suffering, Lord Bayford accepts an invitation from Queen Isabelle (Robin Wright) to have Elodie marry their son, Prince Henry (Nick Robinson). Unbeknownst to Elodie, her father has struck a deal for gold in exchange for her life as a sacrifice to a dragon. As part of a ritual going back generations, Elodie is far from the first to be given up to the fire-breathing beast, but she may be the last. Surviving her initial descent, Elodie quickly uses her wits to elude the monstrous creature and plot her escape from its mountain lair. While you would think this would be the bulk of Damsel‘s running time, much of the second half of the film upends expectations with some interesting decisions.

For the majority of Damsel, Millie Bobby Brown is alone. After the opening act follows an expected formula for a fairy tale, the film kicks into gear once Elodie encounters the massive dragon. Voiced by Shohreh Aghdashloo, the dragon is more than just an animal and may be the most intriguing CGI character since Smaug in The Hobbit films. Not nearly as expressive as Benedict Cumberbatch’s motion-captured performance, Aghdashloo’s signature gravelly voice gives the beast a depth of character that is at once frightening and intriguing. Brown, who has been a solid lead for Netflix in Stranger Things as well as the two Enola Holmes films, is very good here as a princess who is anything but conventional. But, while we have seen the unconventional princess cliche before, Elodie does not come across as stereotypical. Yes, she wants to marry for love instead of politics and yes she is as smart as she is beautiful, but her journey to escape from the dragon is wrought with failures, obstacles, and injuries. This adds some much-needed tension as do a couple of twists along the way that keep the story lively.

The film also boasts some good supporting performances, especially from Angela Bassett and Robin Wright. Playing the stepmother, Bassett could have been a throwaway role for a much less talented actor but she manages to make Lady Bayford an interesting element in the story. Robin Wright, best known as Buttercup in The Princess Bride, does her best to channel that film’s Chris Sarandon as a duplicitous monarch. Wright has played many heroic roles in her career, but Queen Isabelle is the closest she has found to her acclaimed House of Cards role. Wright’s role is key to this story. Nick Robinson, as the charming Prince Henry, does not have much to do here but that may be because Damsel is a female-centric story that focuses on the role of the women in this fairy tale. While not exclusionary to male characters, their existence in this film is more to further the plot rather than actively engage in it.

Damsel review

At just under two hours, Damsel benefits from solid special effects work. Not just in regards to streaming films, Damsel boasts CGI that would look just as good on the big screen as it does on your television. There are a few instances where the budgetary limits show, but the production values make up for that. The script by Dan Mazeau (Fast X) kept me interested to see where things would go and, for the most part, did not disappoint. Much of the story is familiar and you will likely see where things are going, but Mazeau never lets the twists and turns feel telegraphed too far ahead. Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later) gives Damsel a look that starts bright and clean like a Disney fairy tale before devolving into the murk and dark of the mountain caves with a look straight out of Peter Jackson’s playbook. Damsel also pushes the envelope of the PG-13 rating with some truly gruesome death sequences that may be harsh for younger audiences. Overall, this is a fun movie that should appeal to a wide audience, many of whom may enjoy it until the very final scene. That is where things come apart.

Damsel kept my attention almost all of the way through until the end. While it is not a bad ending, perse, it does leave a lot of questions open. Maybe I need to chalk things up to suspension of disbelief, but the final fifteen minutes of Damsel left me scratching my head a bit. Odds are that most viewers won’t think much of what happens to wrap up this story, but I was left feeling like things were too open-ended. Regardless of that, Damsel manages to deliver an adventure that will appeal to all ages and tells a modern fairy tale story that Disney has struggled to do with their live-action remakes. Millie Bobby Brown is a very capable heroine who has the acting talent to make Elodie believable and the physical presence to pull this story off. Damsel is a good movie from Netflix that is just the right running time and looks every bit as good as any big-screen production out there.

Damsel

GOOD

7
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Source: JoBlo.com

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Alex Maidy has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been JoBlo.com's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.