‘Willow’ Review: Warwick Davis & Val Kilmer Give This Fantasy a Beating Heart
There is something uniquely strange, for better and worse, about revisiting the 1988 fantasy adventure film Willow. It is one of those films that has an air of nostalgia around it for its effects and designs. They capture a different era that hadn’t yet fully taken the plunge into CGI spectacle. However, even as Willow is being reimagined as a new TV series, there is still no dancing around some of the original film’s weaker elements. Save for a solid performance by a fresh-faced Warwick Davis and the aforementioned effects, it is a film that remains largely generic without leaving much of an impact of its own. The charm it has mostly comes from scattered small moments, though, the overall experience still remains far less than the sum of its parts.
Drawing from a story by George Lucas and directed by Ron Howard, Willow stars Davis as the titular Willow Ufgood. Living in a magical world, he is more than a bit ornery. When we first meet Willow he is an ordinary farmer who aspires to be a sorcerer. Unbeknownst to him, he is about to be thrust into a prophecy that will send him on a grand adventure. Essentially, there is a child that is foretold to be born with a special rune that will mark them as the one to bring down the evil sorceress Queen Bavmorda of Nockmaar (Jean Marsh) and her reign. Thus, she commands that all pregnant women be locked up to prevent this from happening. Despite this, the child is born and is smuggled out so as to escape the wrath of the queen. Wouldn’t you know it, this all-important child then washes up right with Willow who initially wants to send it further down the river. Instead, Willow ends up becoming the child’s most important protector. What could possibly go wrong? As it turns out quite a lot. Willow will have to fight off the Queen’s forces, including some murderous hounds, all while protecting this tiny infant.
Thus, a quest begins and we meet various other characters along the way. In particular, there is the mercenary Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) who assists our intrepid travelers on their mission. Like Davis, Kilmer similarly gives a committed performance and elevates the story in some key moments. From when we first meet him trapped in a cage, it is clear that he is having quite a bit of fun in navigating this fantasy world. He dances around slapstick-like and has a jolly time at his character’s expense. It feels like a more subversive element of the story that keeps us engaged and entertained. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the rest of the experience. Willow‘s story is an oddly tedious journey. Films that are more than two hours long need sparks in their stories so as not to feel monotonous and lose audience engagement. While there are brief flickers in Willow that prevent one from dismissing it out of hand entirely, it’s hard to recommend watching this movie more than once as it increasingly drags the longer it goes on.