I have never in my life written a film review. I will say I am not professionally qualified, but in this case, that might actually be a useful quality.
First, A Brief Rant
I actually quite enjoyed myself watching this movie. I went in with relatively low expectations, admittedly, but they were exceeded. Acting was mostly good, the source material was followed reasonably well, and the vast majority of jokes were quite funny. I had a few problems that I can get into, but overall, it was a good movie.
My problem is with many of the “professional” reviews I’ve seen so far. (I’ve debated sourcing a few here, but I decided against it since I mainly paraphrase comments I found in multiple places and I’m not trying to rip on any one reviewer. I found all the reviews I obliquely reference here linked from the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes page, if you are interested in reading any of them yourself). Like I said, this movie did have things wrong with it, I’m not claiming it to be perfect. Indeed, it was clumsy with its exposition. There was a lot to explain in not a lot of time. It did sacrifice character development for plot. I don’t have a problem with reviewers pointing out things that are wrong with a movie’s plot or pacing or effects. That is their job, after all.
But what I hate is the way that reviewers seem to automatically disdain any movie created for teenage girls. They say that it is just another in long line of terrible YA adaptations. That it’s entirely too focused on teenage melodrama. Buried within all the comments that sound like legitimate criticism is the idea that it doesn’t deserve any praise or attention because it’s just for those damned, Twilight-starved tweens with more money and hormones than sense. This is insulting to me, personally, as a fan of the YA source material, and it seems to be a pretty well-ingrained oversimplification of young women. Teenage girls are not vapid, brainless, sexually-repressed airheads. They are human beings.
And, because they’re humans, teenage girls are a varied, diverse group made up of individuals. The YA genre, books and movies are the same way. Not every movie with vampires is trying to compete with or attract the same audience as Twilight. Nor is it Harry Potter. Nor is it The Hunger Games. Yes, there are elements from each, and I get the need to describe it in terms that the audience will understand, but this impulse to say Vampires+female lead=Twilight completely baffles me. The YA market is not publishing the same exact story repeatedly and slapping a new title on it. Like in all literature and film there are tropes and plot lines that repeat, but each story has its own unique characters and themes and we need to be more creative when we explain a plot to an audience in a review.
I also really wish someone could do an experiment and make this movie over with a male protagonist and see what reviews it gets. Might they be different? Because I’m pretty sure being quick with a snide comeback, having a reckless, “fight the system” attitude, and experimenting/making mistakes romantically are all par for the course when it comes to male centered or superhero movies and protagonists in those films don’t get labeled as annoying and melodramatic nearly as often.
Basically, my point here is that if you are on the fence about going to see Vampire Academy, please, please, do not be too discouraged by the 11% Rotten Tomatoes score. 86% of real people like it. And if you’re a fan of the books and were worried by the Mean Girls-esque advertising, also do not be afraid. Remember that the first book was a little heavier on the humor and school drama than the later books and know that this movie doesn’t pull its punches on blood or fangs or fights.
End Rant. Start Review.
One problem reviewers have had with the movie was with plot exposition, specifically with the explanations of the mythology and everything making sense. Having read the entire series, I can’t speak to the movie’s effectiveness in this regard because I already knew what was going on. It did seem a little clumsy and obvious to me when they were trying to do pure exposition (Rose and Lissa in the first few minutes talking about the car accident, for example). Dialogue was definitely strained somewhat at the beginning because of this need to explain everything, and, as I mentioned, I have no idea if the explanations were actually effective, though it appears from other reviews I’ve seen that it may not have been.
The acting overall seemed pretty good. I thought Zoey Deutch as Rose and Danila Kozlovsky as Dimitri had good chemistry. (Which is the professional sounding way of saying I had a little book-fangirl moment whenever Danila said “Roza”). Lucy Fry was great as Lissa as well, though I thought the character not liking the word “vampire” was strange, and I can’t remember if that was a thing in the book or not. Dominic Sherwood played Christian Ozera, Lissa’s love interest, and I quite enjoyed him. They managed to work in his and Rose’s grudging friendship as well, and I thought it was well done. The only performance I didn’t love was Olga Kurylenko as the headmistress. She was overly bitchy, both in writing and in performance, I think, though it could be just one or the other.
I really don’t know anything about cinematography or special effects, but I didn’t notice anything strange about them or the scoring, which I think is probably a sign that they were well done, or at least done well enough.
There was quite a lot of attempted humor, and it was delivered admirably (much better than I expected from what was selected for the trailer) by Deutch. There were a few jokes that fell quite flat to me, though often that’s a matter of personal preference (if I wasn’t laughing the two girls in front of me usually were). It wasn’t necessarily riotously funny, but it wasn’t a painful attempted-comedic experience either. It seemed to me to be self-aware of its own ridiculousness, which helped it out quite a lot.
On a star rating scale I give it like a 3.5 or a 4 out of 5. It is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it is entertaining, and faithful to its source material. That’s all I was really looking for out of it, and I definitely want to see a sequel. If it seems interesting to you, give a shot, and I am pretty confident you won’t be disappointed.