As much as I, personally, may enjoy a good movie franchise or a great “cinematic universe,” the truth is that not every movie has to be a part of a franchise. More than that, they certainly need not be wedged into a franchise unnecessarily when they would do better standing on their own.
This last may be the case with the Zoe Lister-Jones written and directed sequel/franchise rebirth, “The Craft: Legacy.” Lister-Jones has created a smart, wonderful, truly wise look at the problems of four teenage girls when they encounter powerful forces, and she works the original film into this movie in fine fashion. However, that 1996 effort feels as though it is fated to overshadow this movie, which very well may be the better entry into the franchise.
Watching “The Craft” today, what is exceptionally remarkable about it is that the four girls at its center, the ones who are using witchcraft, turn on each other. What is a movie kind of/sort of about female empowerment becomes something far more generic as it builds towards it (admittedly fun) climax. Having seen that movie again last week, before watching “The Craft: Legacy,” that was my immediate reaction and it has stuck with me since. The turn isn’t an unexpected one, just disappointing. The characters deserve better.
It doesn’t take a genius, and it’s certainly no spoiler, to say that the new movie doesn’t feature that. Four teens fighting against each other rather than an outside force goes largely against today’s notions, and for the better. Sure, these new Wiccans—Lily (Cailee Spaeny), Frankie (Gideon Adlon), Lourdes (Zoey Luna), and Tabby (Lovie Simone)—may butt heads, but their power comes from their bond, and it’s thrilling to watch it form and grow across the length of the movie. Consciously, the movie makes these four girls a diverse group, but that, too, is part of the point and great to see. It enhances that idea of empowerment that is so germane to the concept.
It is Spaeny’s Lily who is front and center as she and her mother, Helen (Michelle Monaghan), move in with Helen’s new beau, Adam (David Duchovny), and his three boys at the start of the film. One can only imagine the massive and immediate struggles Lily faces in regard to this—she never knew her father—and the fact that the relationship between Helen and Adam is a relatively new one. But, there Lily is in a new home, with new family, and attending a new school.
Spaeny is excellent giving us this person who is trying to be strong and confident as her world is upended around her. The rest of the coven are no less good. They are not as fully rounded as Lily, but each is distinct and great in their own way. It is a powerful foursome.
Lily goes through things that are some truly horrific—and not magically based—over the course of the movie in addition to facing the witchy bits. These moments all point to another great strength of the storytelling – yes, we have four women who practice witchcraft and they’re excited by their abilities, but as much as anything, they’re just people going to high school and trying to make it through the day.
As for the four aforementioned men, none are terribly well drawn individuals, although (unsurprisingly) Adam is the most three dimensional of the lot. That said, the most interesting of the men in the film as a whole is Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine), a fellow high schooler who bullies Lily early on only to have the witches set their sites on him.
Crucially, and one of the reasons the film is so good, is that these women consciously attempt to not act of malice as they’re learning their craft. Any questions of whether they cross the line are ones that the film, and the women, consider. It is a well thought out element, particularly as they have to grapple with their humanness not always allowing them to meet their lofty ideals.
The biggest negative of the film is the sense that it feels required to diverge from these concepts and find a bad guy; that it needs to have the witches fight someone. The evil is handily dealt with, and perhaps this is as much a tribute to movie’s heroines as anything else, but it does add to the notion that having an enemy was an obligation to be fulfilled and not truly a part of the tale being told.
No one watching will be surprised when said baddie emerges. The disappointment is that while there are hints from early on about whom it is going to be, the character simply isn’t developed enough—given enough time and backstory—to make them worthwhile. There are opportunities, but Lister-Jones doesn’t avail herself of them.
While I opened the review by talking about how “The Craft: Legacy” is a needless addition to the franchise, I will say that it does a fantastic job of referencing that movie. From the presentation of the opening title to Lily starting at a new school and the coven needing a fourth, “Legacy” shows that it is a part of the same world at the outset. There are, as one would expect, bits of dialogue, action, and visuals that will have fans of the first pointing at the screen and rejoicing. The new movie in no way undercuts the legacy of the original. It, as I said, just deserves more than to exist in the shadow of that nearly 25 year old film.
“The Craft: Legacy” may be linked to the first film, but it should be watched for what it is, not what it references.
photo credit: Columbia Pictures