Young adult series adaptations have it rough in a world where we have Harry Potter and Twilight. The level of expectations range from super premium all the way down to toxic sludge. There is little in-between, with no saving grace for those who push out properties just because there’s a large fan base behind the books. And as much as it may have seemed like a good idea, Vampire Academy (written by Richelle Mead) is yet another throwaway YA franchise that fails gloriously in the wake of Beautiful Creatures, The Host, Percy Jackson, and The Immortal Instruments.
Now I have never heard of the Vampire Academy series before the movie was announced, but apparently there are six of them. (Cha-ching!) Vampire Academy is the tale of Rosemarie “Rose” Hathaway (Zoey Deutch, who resembles a mix between Ellen Page and Linda Cardellini) and her BFF she has sworn to protect, Vasilisa “Lissa” Dragomir (Lucy Fry). These two ladies have been brought back to St. Vladimir’s aka “Vampire Academy” in Montana after being on the run for a year. Lissa is the only living, rightful heir to the throne of Moroi (good vampires) through some regal upbringing that is given little explanation. They’ve been hiding out because Rose, a Dhampir (halfsie vampires who are the guardians of the Moroi) believes that Lissa has inherited some bad juju and is in danger.
Of course shenanigans occur once they return to school. Blood warnings are smeared on the walls to frighten Lissa (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), the truth to discover who’s behind a mystery no one seems to care about has to be uncovered (Scooby-Doo), and the Strirgoi (evil vampires) want to kill the royal family because, you know, they’re evil and such.
There’s awkward teenage love, high school melodrama; a big stereotypical speech about how we should all get along (Mean Girls); Captain Planet Planeteer magic is conveniently used as deus ex machina; and random pop culture references that make little sense because we are told these kids aren’t allowed off the premises of the academy and do not have Internet access or iPhones (#FirstWorldProblems). Sure Lissa and Rose escaped to Oregon for a year, but how did they find time to watch Pretty in Pink and Gladiator while they feared for their lives?
I’d like to think that the director of Mean Girls, Mark Waters, would be a decent choice to attempt at breathing new life into the teenage vampire genre, but if you look at his filmography (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past; Mr. Popper’s Penguins; The Spiderwick Chronicles) the guy is just a one-hit wonder who can’t direct an action scene to save his life. Tina Fey should be the only one receiving kudos for Mean Girls thanks to her screenplay. Mark’s brother and the screenwriter of Heathers, Daniel Waters, wrote this adaptation, and it becomes obvious where everything falls apart. (I really don’t think Heathers is that great of a film either.)
As I said, I have not touched one page of the Vampire Academy books, but I’m sure there has to be more depth to the characters than what is not articulated on screen. Fry does an OK job for her first feature, but Deutch will be the only one to walk away mostly unscathed with the potential for more work. Deutch will need to find a role that will challenge her range if she wants to stand out amongst Shailene Woodley and Jennifer Lawrence though. I dig her energy, quickness, and sass. She’s like the male equivalent to Miles Teller. They also really force feed her cleavage as much as possible, which may not be an issue for some guys who get dragged to this by their girlfriends, but at points it becomes gratuitous.
All of the secondary characters: Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky) head Dhampir guardian, Christian (Dominic Sherwood) a fellow Moroi student, and Natalie (Sarah Hyland) also a Moroi, are carbon copies of roles we’ve seen before. Not a single character do you care about their outcome or come to understand their background throughout the movie. Olga Kurylenko, Gabriel Byrne, and Joely Richardson play the overseeing, party-pooper adult figureheads who bring some flavor with the cheesiest and most chewed up roles imaginable.
The only redeeming quality that Vampire Academy has going for it is the dialogue; not because it’s witty, funny, or sharp – it’s far from it – but because it’s miles away from the brooding vampire/fantasy we’re use to. Sometimes Rose’s banter with the others works because of Zoey’s well-timed delivery, but the script feels like it is trying way too hard to be edgy and cool – as if it were Juno, which would have worked 10 years ago. The best part is that the film tries to rip on Twilight, but just ends up being nearly as shallow. Surprisingly the film’s tone isn’t as off as you would expect with a healthy mix of comedy and action, one never overshadowing the other. But when those pesky kids find out who has been terrorizing the old Vladimir place, and the mask has been taken off, you just kind of except the reveal because there are never any hints of character motivations to make you believe their intent.
If Daniel Waters spent a little more time fleshing out the rules and fun of the magic; going into more detail about the royal family and the school; expanded the mythology for us to understand the difference between the vampire races and their past; and provide some immediacy leading up to the climax than Vampire Academy could have worked. We’re also stuck on this high school campus for who knows when because they don’t give a hint as to how much time has past. Everything feels so closed off on this humongous campus while we are only taken to six or seven rooms.
True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, The Twilight Saga, and Underworld, you would think someone would catch on that we’ve had a bit of an overload on the whole niche as of late, right? Vampire Academy in no way helps bring vampires back into the forefront of pop culture, it reinforces the fact that someone needs to drive a stake into the genre to put it to rest. Without the enthusiasm of the young cast Vampire Academy would have been insufferable. Take note Hollywood, it’s not the quantity of young adult fiction-fantasy novels you bring us, it’s the quality.
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Vampire Academy releases on Friday, February 7, 2014. It was directed by Mark Waters, with a run time of 104 minutes. This film has been rated PG-13 for violence, bloody images, sexual content and language.
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