The warrior at the centre of Ava DuVernay’s updated adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 award winning science fiction novel is a young biracial woman who finds power in herself even as darkness and evil spreads across the universe. It’s a refreshing change to the usual hero seen in classic fantasy films and DuVernay layers her film with new meaning with its main character’s personal struggle with her appearance.
Since the disappearance of her father (Chris Pine), Meg (Storm Reid) has lost her way, her grades have slipped, and she retaliates against bullying with reactionary outbursts. Thankfully her precocious, adopted brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) is looking out for her with warm milk and a protective force. His belief in her leads Meg to meet a boy next door type, Calvin and three gorgeously dressed magical queens, Mrs. Which (Oprah), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), who help Meg across space and time in her quest to find her father. Their costumes are dazzlingly designed by Paco Delgado with the men and boys working the chunky knit look with flair.
Reid turns in a great performance and aside her, the young McCabe’s versatile turn impresses as he switches from adorable to damn terrifying. With Calvin’s character sorely underwritten there’s not much for Levi Miller to get his teeth into and the dynamic between Meg and Calvin never really soars. The Christian themes in the book have been stripped away with Mrs. Who’s endless quotes instead referring to political figures, Lin-Manuel Miranda and OutKast. However, the screenplay struggles to find its feet as it jumps or tessers from one CG set piece to the next.
That’s not to say this isn’t a bold vision from DuVernay, as it’s mostly a deliciously trippy and inspiring kids fantasy adventure. It has the fantastical feel of The Neverending Story crossed with a Joe Dante kids’ horror like The Hole. It’s gloriously uplifting in its sincerity and determination to spread a joyful message about the power of loving yourself.