Capitalizing not just on proven source material (the book series) but also on tried-and-tested school-set, teen-starring fantasy formulas, nothing about this film feels particularly original. But Netflix knows the audience it's aiming for with The School for Good and Evil. And judging by the open-ended finale of this movie and the number of books in the original series, the platform is also presumably hoping those audiences will come back for more. (This begs the question: why not a miniseries?) These are the viewers who won't be deterred by the two-and-a-half-hour run time or the film's overly-packed intro. A mishmash of characters, accents, and ideas, including an on-again/off-again narrator (voiced by Cate Blanchett), are other potential deterrents for newcomers to this Harry Potter meets Disney Princess world.
Having said that, if you stick with it, the movie has some positive messages and a satisfying resolution. Technical aspects like wardrobe, setting, and fight choreography are all well done under Paul Feig's direction, bringing the books' atmosphere to vivid life. Some modern, female-heavy music adds to the soundtrack. What this film also has that many others don't is an A-list adult cast. They bring gravitas, and Washington is especially convincing as the head of the School for Good, but they're largely underused. This means the teen stars take the spotlight. Wylie's Agatha is the real center of the film and a character that allows for a truer and less theatrical performance than Sophie's, embodied with gusto by the petite Caruso. Here's hoping the adults, and other teen characters like Hort and Beatrix, get more screen time in the next movie.