Friday, June 13, 2014

Vampire Academy

Get out your silver stakes and secret blood connections, we're reviewing Vampire Academy!

Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) is a guardian to the vampire princess, Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry) and together they attend an academy where Lissa can master her magic powers and Rose can become a better guardian. After an accident and year long absence, Rose and Lissa are brought back to the academy with a strange new psychic connection. But someone or something wants them out! Can Rose figure out who or what it is, while protecting Lissa?

It's weird how excited I was for this considering it's a teenage vampire flick. What I was really excited about is a teen action film with two female leads! That's cool! When does that happen? Not enough, that's when! Anyways, Vampire Academy doesn't really live up to my expectations, but it's still a fun film. It is exactly Harry Potter + Twilight + Mean Girls. And that's still two-thirds pretty good, right?

So Rose is a Dhampir, which is a guardian pledged to protect their vampire masters, the Moroi, mostly from the other evil vampires, the Strigori. See the Moroi are vampires but they're mortal and can walk in the day without bursting into flame and are generally good natured but still need to drink blood, while the Strigori are the more classically immortal, bloodthirsty, burst-into-flames kind of vampires. Also, the Moroi can do one of four types of magic: water, fire, earth or air - oh, AND there's this whole vampire form of government that takes new leaders from one of 12 houses and Lissa is poised to become the next queen but she has to declare a magic but for some reason she can do all FOUR magics and UUUUGGGGHHH man there is a lot of exposition in this movie.

That's probably the biggest problem with this. Since it's a new vamp drama OF COURSE it has to set up its own rules and universe. And they try their very darnedest to squeeze all the necessary info in organically without doing giant info dumps, but there's only so much you can do with SO MUCH new information. In fact I feel like there was still information I was probably missing? Like for one thing, it's really hard to tell who's a vampire and who isn't. There was a major character I was SURE was human and then BAM vamp. All of this takes away precious time that could have gone to much more cool and fun stuff, like the fighting or the magic or the catty vamp high school drama. After a while I just didn't care and I wanted them to get to the cool stuff.

What keeps the movie together is Zoey Deutch's fun handling of the main character. I like her. I like spending time with this character. She's just the right amount of awkwardness, uncertainty and bad-assery. The script is trying to be Mean Girls but it is SO not there yet, and Deutch keeps it from being too terrible. Lucy Fry is also really good in her role as the royal vampire friend. Olga Kurylenko seems to be having fun in her role as headmistress, and I wanted to see more of her. She reminded me of Parker Posey in Blade Trinity. And Sarah Hyland as Natalie was great too. There are a ton of great female characters in this movie, and that's nice to see. The rest of the acting ranges from OK to questionable.

It's mostly Rose's story, but since her and Lissa are psychically connected for reasons, the movie frequently does this technique where Rose can see what Lissa is currently doing, which I think is a pretty sneaky way of still having it be Rose's story but also finding out what Lissa's up to at the moment. The movie can have its cake and eat it too!

The action is alright. Half of it is fun and half of it looks like they were still training their fight choreography off-screen. I just wish there was more of it. And more Vampire powers! This seems like the first movie that basically makes vampires elemental benders like in Avatar: The Last Airbender and there's no way I don't want to see MORE of that. The Strigori always seem like a constant menace, but they barely ever show up. Most of the action is in training exercises and some boss fights at the end of the movie. There's also some questionable CGI in the "cyhounds," which are barely ever there to do anything anyways.

The pacing is way off, mostly thanks to needing to have so much exposition. Midway through the movie someone goes "Well I've been doing this for weeks and-" Really? It hasn't felt like weeks. I feel like a lot of this is a "show, don't tell!" problem. Plus, I'm also chalking it up to this being the first movie so they have to get a lot of that crap out of the way in order for the next one to go CRAZY. And really, I hope there is a next one, because it seems like a pretty cool universe with some pretty intriguing characters.

There's also lots of romance stuff–she likes him but pretends to like the other guy blah blah blah–which I could take or leave. But that's the kind of thing that happens in teen movies so it doesn't bother me. There are a couple of hunks I guess if you're into that sort of thing. And also they have Deutch showing off a surprising amount of cleavage, which I found weird for what seems like a movie aimed at teen girls. With that it's weird when she shows up in a black dress that's more modest than her low cut trainer outfit and everyone goes, "oh man she's sexually coming out of her shell!" Like, is it all that much of a difference that she's not wearing pants?

I wanted to like this movie more than I actually liked this movie. It's not really all that well put together, but it's entertaining and there some funny bits and cool action bits and it's a movie about female empowerment and having strong female relationships with other women in your life. And I think that's more important in a movie than having really good CGI. I'd rather give this a pass than ANOTHER terrible CGI action fest with no or poorly realized female characters. I really want this movie to succeed and hope it gets a sequel! It deserves it, and so do the women in the audience. There are some really cool strong female role models here! And Twilight had like what, 5 movies? C'mon this deserves at least ONE more sequel.

THE GOOD: Two female leads, interesting take on vampires, some cool action bits, funny, great female leads, fun movie with lots of female role models.

THE BAD: Acting isn't always great, too much exposition, movie moves too fast, can be confusing, questionable CGI.

THE VERDICT: 3.5. I don't think it's for everyone and it's certainly not the best, but I think it's a pretty fun movie with some great female role models. Also Vampires that can fire-bend and water-bend. I'm down.

MOVIES LIKE IT: Mean Girls, Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter, The Vampire's Assistant

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: After everything's said and done, one of the main characters makes a rousing Mean Girls-esque speech about all sticking together and there not being any more "bad blood" (GROAN). It doesn't really work because the writing's not great, it doesn't fit and it feels a bit rushed. But it's kind of OK because you WANT to like the speech. You like the idea and sentiment of the speech she's giving. I mean at least she's trying.

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