Thursday, April 20, 2017

Theory Thursday: "Mirror Mirror" is Underrated

Scene from Mirror Mirror
Welcome to a weekly column called Theory Thursdays, which will be released every Thursday and discuss my "controversial opinion" related to something relative to the week of release. Sometimes it will be birthdays while others is current events or a new film release. Whatever the case may be, this is a personal defense for why I disagree with the general opinion and hope to convince you of the same. While I don't expect you to be on my side, I do hope for a rational argument. After all, film is a subjective medium and this is merely just a theory that can be proven either way. 

Subject: Free Fire movie opens in theaters this Friday.
Theory: Mirror Mirror is underrated.

This Friday, Free Fire arrives in cinemas nationwide. It's a curious film to release, especially as it appears to be nothing but a 90 minute shootout. With that said, the cast looks very promising and features one of Brie Larson's first post-Oscar win performances. Still, there are few compelling additions to the cast than that of Armie Hammer. It's weird that in the seven years since The Social Network that his star power sort of fizzled. It's true that he's a conventional leading man in an era that has shifted to characters more than actor, but he still has charisma that has gone unappreciated. While I have written before about how The Lone Ranger is underrated, it is only one of the many ways that he hasn't gotten his due in the years since playing one of the greatest fake twins in cinema history. Of course, there's also director Tarsem Singh's Mirror Mirror - which I feel in general has been overlooked entirely.

We live in a weird time for remake culture. The highest grossing movie of 2017 is Disney's Beauty and the Beast. It's a bit droll and relies too much on nostalgia to properly work. In fact, it continues the myth that all live action remakes are bad. True, that has largely been true in Disney's sense (though Ghost in the Shell also knows what I mean), but I daresay that there's been some good in adapting familiar stories. As it stands, it's a bit confusing to suggest this, but Mirror Mirror is the best version of Snow White that wasn't made by Disney. Yes, even the mediocre Snow White and the Huntsman from the same year pales in comparison to the magic of Singh's vision, even if it apparently wasn't good enough for a sequel that didn't star "Snow White."

Yes, Mirror Mirror isn't technically Disney nor a live action remake. However, it would be easy to mistake it as such based on how upbeat the overall film is. One of Singh's greatest strengths as a director is creating colorful worlds full of memorable costumes and set designs. To look at the world that he has created here is impressive. He has taken the familiar fairy tale source material and turned it into a wonderland of color and life. You are welcomed into the world of family cinema almost immediately. Yes, it has some dark spots. However, it also has a lot of personality and a sense of fun amid its theme of powerful independent women, perfectly subverted by Hammer's incompetent knight who ends up at one point becoming a puppy dog thanks to a spell from The Queen (Julia Roberts).

It helps that Roberts manages to play The Queen as menacing while also a bit campy. She struggles with her looks, wishing to be the fairest of them all. She comically deconstructs the aging woman character and makes the motivation make sense for contemporary audiences. Add in that the supporting cast is in on the joke, and it does manage to create for a 21st century read of the tale. As much as it's about telling the story accurately, it's also about exploring the true value of beauty: a fact slightly ironic given how attractive the general cast and cinematography is. Still, the Snow White in question (Lily Collins) is a spry and lovable character who always manages to exude humbleness and honesty. Even as she becomes trapped in a battle for safety, she still manages to bust a move. Even as the third act enters an abstract subtext about her father, she still manages to maintain her grace.

What makes Mirror Mirror exceptional is that it is a modernized fairy tale without sacrificing quality. It does take plenty of liberties with the source material. However, it leaves behind a film that embodies what family cinema should be. It doesn't condescend and instead leaves the viewer having fun with very silly gags. Yes, some of it is lowbrow and shows its kid friendly elements heavily. Even then, it is a lot more pleasant to think of than trying to remake classic upbeat tales as dark and gritty merely because that's what the culture demands. Maybe Snow White and the Huntsman had the better box office, but Mirror Mirror had the better story and action. There's no denying that it will at least leave you upbeat. It may not be the greatest fairy tale movie ever, but it definitely deserves more credit than it gets. 

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