It’s about a French girl (Kaya Scodelario) in the 1600’s who’s taken from her monastery home to live in King Louis XIV’s palace, unaware that she’s his daughter. She loves music so when she hears a strange song at night, she follows it to an underground pool where a mermaid is being held captive, waiting on an eclipse so she can be sacrificed to give the King eternal life. The girl befriends the mermaid, as well as the handsome sailor (Benjamin Walker) who caught her, and a predictable series of romantic adventure ensues.
Except the movie is quite a mess, and those appealing ideas of fairytale romance and adventure get a little buried in the jumble. The movie spends more time with the plotting King (Pierce Brosnan) his Priest (William Hurt) and the “scientist” who’s going to kill the mermaid for him. They spend a lot of time bickering about God and science, or rambling about nothing much at all. Then there’s the drama between the King and the girl as he doesn’t tell her she’s his daughter but hires her to play music for him outside his window every morning, and then once he tells her he immediately tries to merry her off to some simpering duke, which doesn’t go over well of course but doesn’t really go anywhere plot-wise either except to make her realize he’s not so great a dad.
It’s like the movie understood what kind of tropes would be appealing, but had no idea how to actually use them. I loved the idea of her being engaged to a bad guy while falling in love with the sailor, but we never get to see the tension and conflict that situation should raise. I don’t think she even sees the duke while knowing their marriage is arranged. And the sailor only finds out about it a minute before it’s not an issue anymore. The movie touches on so many tropes that I enjoy that I wasn’t disappointed, but it seems to have cinematic ADHD, hoping to and fro whatever topic pops into its head in real time. Scenes end abruptly, or cut in and out without apparent reason, and don’t have the stamina to find the compelling content they’re obviously searching for.
If I were the actors involved, I’d probably wish it had stayed on the shelf. It’s a bit embarrassing. But as a movie fan, I’m glad it was released, even with all the weirdness. Brosnan and Hurt phone in their stuff, but I’m not mad about it. There’s nothing in the script that’s worth getting worked up for and they’re entertaining without trying. Scodelario tries, bless her, but her efforts only made me laugh when paired with the clunky lines she’s trying to convey. Benjamin Walker’s character is very much a K-Mart brand Will Turner but still somehow manages to be halfway dashing. The cheesy romance was probably the best aspect simply because cheesy romance increases in value the cheesier it gets. Still, I can’t help but think there was a path here for something a step above—more real character development over empty platitudes to give the cheese a foundation on which to thrive.
The tropey appeal cannot overcome the mess. It’s badly written, badly cobbled together with bad performances, laughably modern costumes, cheap CGI, and a smattering of sweeping wonder. I enjoyed it all, but only because swashbuckling fairytales like this barely exist at all—let alone in any better realm of quality.
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