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‘DAMSEL’ Film Review: A Lavish Fairytale Marred by Royally Shallow Charm and Ingenuity

Full disclosure: Going into Damsel, I was well aware that I was perhaps a few decades beyond the target audience, so I decided that the best way to gauge this film would be to rope in my two teenage children.

Millie Bobby Brown finds herself under dragon fire in this fantastical new adventure film with Juan Carlos Fresnau (28 Weeks Later, Intruders) at the helm. As the seemingly naive Elodie, she is under the impression that she’s marrying a prince to save her destitute family. But the lavish wedding festivities end abruptly when she is thrown into a pit as a sacrifice to a ferocious dragon to seal a centuries-old pact. Now Elodie must rely on her wits and inner warrior to survive this trial by fire.

The tale opens on a familiar note, with epic dragon attacks and a formulaic royal wedding set-up. The talented cast, most notably Robin Wright as the deliciously devious Queen Isabelle, deliver solid performances. But we’ve seen these fantasy tropes done to death, so it’s really hard to get invested when we know exactly why Princess Elodie is being forced to marry Prince Henry. The random similarities to Brown’s real-life engagement had me wondering how her actual wedding extravaganza might play out, rather than the on-screen nuptials.

Once Elodie is thrown into the dragon’s lair, whichever way you slice it, the film relies far too heavily on Brown’s star power and charisma, becoming a one-woman vehicle dedicated to catapulting Brown into the next phase of her career: evidently intent on following in Milla Jovovich’s footsteps, with the film playing out like a fairytale spin on Jovovich’s recent Monster Hunter adaptation, with a slice of the original Predator film thrown in for good measure. And the less said about the dragon being able to speak, the better. Elodie and the dragon’s ability to communicate through plain language robbed the encounters of any inherent wonder, and it struck me that if Elodie had only been able to relay her thoughts and feelings to the dragon through body language, gestures or emotional vocalisations, the interactions might have felt far more genuine and fascinating.

Coming back to what I said at the beginning. I watched this with my children, not saying a word, just to see how they reacted to the film, and for the most part they loved it. The spectacular set pieces and the dragon and lava effects checked all the right boxes for them and they really appreciated the fact that they knew what was going to happen to Elodie and were excited to see how she would escape the dragons clutches. Their enthusiasm waned, though, as the final battle approached. As Elodie suited up for the fight, my kids were baffled by her sudden fighting prowess and were not convinced given her previous close calls with the dragon. While they appreciated the originality of Elodie not emerge completely unscathed, this late attempt at realism felt pretty contrived. A few battle wounds couldn’t compensate for the character’s jarring inconsistency.

While Damsel does deliver some highly entertaining moments with its lavish settings and elaborate action sequences, Elodie’s journey frequently rings hollow, lacking the depth and plausibility needed to keep its audience fully engaged. Regardless, the film is a worthy showcase for Brown’s talent, even if it never fully captivates.

VERDICT:

Damsel streams on Netflix on March 8.

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