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Review: Damsel (2024)

Damsel (2024)

Directed by: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Premise: A princess (Millie Bobby Brown) from a struggling land is to marry the prince of a wealthy kingdom. She discovers that her in-laws plan to sacrifice her to a fire breathing dragon.

What Works: The largest portion of Damsel is set in the dragon’s cavernous lair in which Millie Bobby Brown’s character must evade the beast and navigate her way out. This is the strongest portion of the film. It’s engaging and exciting with a strong sense of imminent danger. Brown’s character has to find her way through the cave while she’s stalked by the dragon and the filmmakers design a series of challenges. The heroine has no tools or weapons and she must be resourceful and smart. The filmmakers approach their premise thoughtfully and find ways to give the princess credible ways of overcoming challenges. This is what defines Brown’s character and she rises to the occasion in ways that make her heroic. The princess gradually pieces together the history between the dragon and the royal family, revealing the princess’s intelligence but also complicating some of the conventional ways dragons are presented in this kind of story. The filmmakers smartly withhold the dragon throughout much of this segment. The beast speaks threateningly at her but mostly from off screen. This creates tension and the dragon’s presence is felt throughout the picture.

What Doesn’t: Contemporary fantasy storytelling frequently seeks to upend genre conventions, usually with feminist intentions. A lot of Disney pictures since Frozen have done this as have other movies reimagining what a princess character can be. Damsel announces itself this way from the opening scene. Millie Bobby Brown’s character is not a conventional princess obsessed with romance or trivialities. She’s established as tough and independent from the start and as a result she doesn’t have space to grow. Brown’s character is not really changed by her experience and she’s mostly the same character at the end of the film. The production design of Damsel is split between the dingy cavern of the dragon’s lair and the refined palace of the royal family. The cave looks great but the palace often looks fake. The sets and costumes are too polished and manufactured and often look like an attraction at a Disney theme park. The visual effects vary. Some of them are very good but other images look cartoonish.

Disc extras: Available on Netflix.

Bottom Line: Damsel is an entertaining fantasy adventure. The middle portion is the strongest. The ending can’t top it and the character development and drama are undermined by prioritizing feminist politics over the story. But Damsel is overall a satisfying action picture.

Episode: #989 (March 24, 2024)