I’m done with family-friendly adventure movies, at least if they’re not even going to try. I understand you’re obviously reaching for a younger audience. This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice any joy, fun, character, and plot. Yet this is what Inkheart does, with no apparent realization that being enjoyable is still a requirement to be a movie.
The plot’s concept is certainly interesting enough. Mo Folchart (Brendan Fraser) is a Silvertongue, somebody who brings characters from books to life by reading the stories out loud. While he tries not to use his power, one day he reads Inkheart out loud (You may ask why…and so do I, as there’s no reason), which releases the heroic Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) and the villainous Capricorn (Andy Serkis), while dragging his wife into the book. Now he travels with his daughter Meggie (Eliza Bennett, who inexplicably has a British accent) to try and find another copy of Inkheart so he can get his wife back.
This is about as far as the plot ever gets. It’s a concept that could’ve been full of fun. But the entire first half of the movie is dark and joyless. Most of the opening minutes are either exposition or an introduction to Capricorn and his henchmen. Capricorn doesn’t even appear to have a villainous plot until the final third of the movie, instead just being…villainous. Andy Serkis isn’t even given a chance to ham it up, he just plays a generic villain. I swear in several scenes you can even see his disbelief at the movie he’s stuck in. The worst part of the villains, though, is that they almost uncomfortably look like Nazis. While their plan isn’t anything similar to thank, thankfully, I can’t shake the feeling that they went way too far off the darkness edge.
Every good hero needs a good villain, so of course we’re stuck with a bunch of incompetent idiots. At one point, two of the heroes are being held up by the villains, who are looking for a Silvertongue. One of the heroes just blurts out that the other is a Silvertongue. It’s not a “maybe they’ll save me” thing, it’s really a “well, the plot has to go somewhere, so I better act like an idiot to move it along” thing. Here’s a hint for good writing: the story should be moved along by intelligence, not by the heroes doing something incredibly stupid.
I’m going to have to spoil two plot points here, to make a significant point about the movie. I don’t feel too bad about this because one of them happens fairly early on, and the other hardly qualifies as a twist, but there you go. In the climax of the movie, Meggie is forced to read from Inkheart and bring an even bigger villain, The Shadow, to life. She does nothing to delay the summoning. She doesn’t start padding, she doesn’t read it really slowly. She just reads it normally. It gets worse. She’s doing this to save her mother. She does this with full knowledge that, when The Shadow is summoned, its first act is going to be killing her mother. If there is some hidden character motivation that I missed here, well, it’d be giving the movie too much credit to say that the characters have any motivation, or even anything resembling a brain. When Mo loses a copy of Inkheart that he’s been searching 9 years for, his first thought is to go to the author’s house. He’s been searching for 9 years and didn’t even consider that the author might have a copy. There’s something called fridge logic, where you start asking questions about the movie once you hit the fridge after watching it. My screenwriting teacher said that, as long as the audience doesn't ask questions until then, you’re good. Inkheart failed on this.
Inkheart is a terrible movie. Good family adventures should appeal to that sense of fun and wonderment that exists inside everybody, the inner child that loves fantasy. I’m thinking Princess Bride, Stardust, MirrorMask. While the latter two are aimed at a slightly older audience, they still have a great sense of a magical world while being playful about the situation. This has no playfulness, no fun, no magic. It’s a husk of a movie, missing its heart and its soul.