- Warwick Davis, Ruby Cruz, Erin Kellyman, Tony Revolori, Amar Chadha-Patel
- Action, Adventure, Fantasy
- Release date
- November 30, 2022
- Where to watch
The two-part season premiere of Willow (the series) dropped on Disney+ a few days ago and that’s the best thing that I have to say about it. There’s an old Mike Myers SNL skit in which he plays a crusty Scotsman who runs a Scottish retail store. His catchphrase was, “if it’s not Scottish, it’s crap.” Well, Willow is definitely not Scottish. It is, however, a tonal mess, a cheap-looking knock-off, and a woketopia.
The general story is that immediately after the movie credits ended, an even badder baddy, The Crone (original huh?) from a faraway land made it known that she too wanted Elora Danan (the red-headed baby from the original film) for her own nefarious purposes. So, instead of the happy ending that we spent 33 years fondly remembering, Sorsha, played by Joanne Whalley, and Val Kilmer’s Madmartigan got married and secreted Elora away Sleeping Beauty style, keeping her whereabouts hidden from everyone and her identity hidden from herself. Skip ahead 20 years (story time, it’s actually been over 30 years since the movie hit theaters) and Sorsha and Mad have managed to raise Disney’s obligatory lesbian child and strong independent female (re: snarky brat), as well as a straight white son who happens to be a complete idiot.
Anyway, the baddies manage to break through the magic border that has surrounded the kingdom for the last 20 years and they spirit away Prince Arik. One assumes that they do this so that Sorsha will feel compelled to trade Elora for him, even though no such ransom request is left. So, a ragtag group of adventurers is assembled and sent to find the only remaining sorcerer in the land, Willow Ufgood, so that they might find and retrieve Prince Arik.
In the hands of capable and thoughtful writers, Willow could be another sweeping epic of good vs. evil that teaches one can overcome insurmountable odds as long as they are stalwart and clever. However, in true modern Disney fashion, this legacy sequel must dump as much of its legacy as it can, as quickly as it can, and hand the torch to a much younger (and more importantly) much more diverse group.
In the original film, a major part of Willow’s motivation and hero’s journey was his quest to become a great wizard, and there was no shortage of hints that he may have what it takes. Cut to the new series and in one episode we are jarred out of the main narrative with a cut scene of Sorsha telling Willow that he is not a great wizard and never will be. The entire thing feels like the editor found the scene laying on the cutting room floor, got drunk one night, and mistakenly placed it in the middle of the episode. But who cares, we’ve got the new more diverse crew on the case now, so we don’t even really need Willow, right?
In the original, Willow had a terrible responsibility thrust on him. He was a simple farmer who was a 3rd the size as that of the dominant race of the land. Yet, he found himself leaving the relative safety of his village armed with nothing but a handful of magic rocks and his wits to serve him. In the new series, Sorsha could easily send an entire army of trained soldiers after her only son but instead, she chooses a teenage princess who is her only remaining child/heir, a beta-male prince with no known fighting or tracking skills, an un-initiated 110lbs female warrior, and an unhinged and violent criminal to find him…because of reasons.
The performances range from talented actors/actresses delivering dialogue that is slightly better than that of Star Wars: Attack of The Clones, to relative newbies trying to project the gravitas of their predecessors. In the aforementioned flashback between Sorsha and Willow, the dialogue goes something like this:
Willow: I’ll train her. I’m High Aldwin now. I’ve become what Raziel always said I would, a great sorcerer.Sorsha: My dear friend. You are the bravest man I’ve ever known, and you have the truest heart I ever will. But you’re not a great sorcerer, and you never will be.
It sounds like the first draft of fan fiction.
Ruby Cruz plays Kit, the daughter of Sorsha and Madmartigan (not seen for obvious reasons). She also does her best Madmartigan impersonation throughout, and guess what? It doesn’t work. For all of the rumors of Kilmer’s offscreen antics, the man could act. Cruz has potential but, under the meager ministrations of an inept director, her performance is sorely lacking and she is woefully miscast in what appears will end up being a pivotal role in the series. She seems timid and afraid of her acting choices and she makes bizarre and distracting hand gestures.
Where Kilmer was able to pull off Maritigan’s churlish behavior by softening it with charm and bursts of reluctant bravery, whether through poor writing or Cruz’s inexperience, Kit comes across as a spoiled and impulsive brat. Yet, she’s still better than Warwick.
Arguably, the greatest disappointment is that of Warwick Davis, who reprises the role of Willow, and gives a stuttering and wooden performance with rhythms odd enough to make William Shatner tell him to get…ahold…ofhimself. It’s truly unnatural and distracting. While he’s never been an actor on par with the greats, he’s also never been distractingly bad, and it’s not like he’s been away from acting since Willow (1988) came out. He’s worked consistently since then (Harry Potter films, Moominvalley, etc.).
Ruby’s BFF and Disney exec-mandated love interest is Jade Claymore, played by Erin Kellyman, (Falcon and The Winter Soldier and Solo: A Star Wars Story), a mop-topped commoner who, for some reason has just been accepted to join an elite group of warriors even though she’s about 5′ 8′ 110lbs, and easily gets bested by Kit in the series’s opening fight scene. Not exactly Brienne of Tarth.
Kellyman is an adequate actress whose performance makes that of her character’s paramour that much more stark in comparison.
The rest of the cast is pretty forgettable but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Elora Danan. Played by the relatively unknown Ellie Bamber, Elora is a moron who has a super lady-boner for the prince because they made out once. Ellie seems like she does what she can with what she’s given, which isn’t much, but everything about the character is contrived and stupid, from her motivation for searching out the prince to her fumbling attempts at magic.
I’d worry about spoiling Elora’s identity but, so far, the show manages to reveal “surprise” twists with all the subtlety and restraint of a 17-year-old boy on prom night. It turns out that Elora was raised by the castle cook, and, more importantly, she makes terrific muffins. That’s what passes for a running “joke” in this series…she makes the best muffins…get it?
Jade is a 110lbs warrior novice who is the only woman to ever get accepted to an elite group of warriors – because of reasons.
Every man in the series is either a buffoon, a joke (even Willow), a subservient beta-male, evil, or fodder.
Following in the steps of The Rings of Power, BIPOCs exist in the Tolkien-like realm for some reason. At least in House of The Dragon, it is explained and makes sense (still felt a bit forced and retconned). While there is obviously nothing inherently wrong with people of color being cast in fantasy roles, all casting should make sense. It made sense to cast Idris Elba as Heimdall in the Thor movies because Elba has a real presence and looked absolutely bad@$$ in the role, which works when a film is more form over substance. However, doing it for the sake of filling a self-imposed quota is decidedly woke.
Strong independent women must act like snarky caricatures of men because…reasons. Seriously, did no one watch the original before setting fire to this dumpster? Sorsha was bad@$$ but she was still a woman.
Last but not least: Lesbians for the sake of lesbians.
James Carrick is a passionate film enthusiast with a degree in theater and philosophy. James approaches dramatic criticism from a philosophic foundation grounded in aesthetics and ethics, offering insight and analysis that reveals layers of cinematic narrative with a touch of irreverence and a dash of snark.