March 13, 2018 – This loving adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's beloved novel is an emotional, visual feast, much needed in these times of division, anger, cynicism and mistrust. It is a tribute to the power of love in a cold, indifferent universe.
I went into this movie with low expectations since many reviews of this film elsewhere are far less than positive, but other critics have also noted this is a very ambitious movie, and that is something I am attracted to. Also, I went because this is a much-anticipated film, like “Black Panther” before it, as a film with a black director and some primary black cast members. Director Ava DuVernay previously directed the brilliant documentary “13th” and the honored historical drama “Selma” before taking on this challenging project.
I have not read the book, nor have I seen the previous (2003) made-for-television movie of the same name based on the book. All I knew about the story before seeing this movie was what I had seen in movie preview advertisements on TV.
The movie starts out by carefully establishing its central character, Meg Murry (played by Storm Reid of “Sleight”). This is crucial, since the whole film rests on her sleight shoulders. It turns out that Storm Reid has the talent and passion to make this film work. This is a film filled with lots of special effects and visual wonders, but it is really the Meg Murry show. This film is all about her very emotional journey from self doubt to self confidence.
Meg Murry is a troubled school girl, openly mocked by other children because of her nerdy looks and because of the strange disappearance of her father, Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine of the recent “Star Trek” movies). When another girl insults Meg's father, she attacks, and lands in detention, along with her genius little brother, Charles Wallace Murry (Deric McCabe). However, her attack against a mean girl comes to the attention of an admirer, Calvin O'Keefe (Levi Miller of “Better Watch Out”).
Calvin is drawn to Meg, but Meg has low self-esteem and cannot believe that she is attractive enough to have such an admirer. Soon, Meg, Charles and Calvin are all drawn into a series of strange events, involving people, or what appear to be people, from places in the universe far from Earth.
They learn at Meg and Charles' father, Alex, has become trapped in a distant part of the universe by a dark force known as “It,” the essence of evil in the universe. They also learn that this evil force is spreading throughout the universe and that Earth itself is in danger. They learn all this from three higher beings known as Mmes Which, Whatsit and Who, played, respectively by Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling (of “This is the End”).
Soon, all three children find themselves in a strange, distant part of the universe where they can communicate with flowers and the landscape can change from an open field to a forest in an instant. If Meg was a bit more whimsical, she might well say something like this whole situation gets “curiouser and curiouser.” Their task is to find and rescue Dr. Alex Murry and to save the universe from It. In order to do that, Meg has to become a warrior, and a hero.
The visual imagination on display in this film is really striking. Mrs. Whatsits' transformation from human form into a kind of flying leaf is particularly impressive, as is the wondrous maze of the Happy Medium's (Zach Galifianakis of “The Hangover”) lair. This movie looks great in 3D. I do hope Disney will distribute this movie in the 3D blu-ray format in the U.S., but the company increasingly unwilling to do this kind of post-theatrical distribution in the U.S.
This is a movie about children, but it really is not a children's movie since the themes are more like adult themes, and some scenes would probably scare young children. It also may not be quite hip or “edgy” enough for teens, so this film may struggle to find a market, but I hope it does, because it is an uplifting movie about empowerment of those very groups (girls, women and scientists) who are under vicious attack these days. This film rates a B+.
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