Review by Sean Boelman
Helmed by Paddington filmmaker Paul King and starring indie-darling-turned-megastar Timothée Chalamet, Wonka hopes to revitalize the IP with a wholesome new movie musical. Unfortunately, the film is sorely lacking in the thing supposedly at its core — imagination — resulting in an outing that feels all too generic to make much of an impact, in one direction or the other.
Wonka serves as an origin story for the eponymous chocolatier of Roald Dahl’s creation, showing how he overcame the odds, going from vagabond to owner of his very own chocolate factory. At first, the film takes the form of a rags-to-riches tale, and while it’s diverting enough, it’s also rather plodding. In the second act, it turns into something more closely resembling a kiddie heist movie, but at this point, it’s too little too late to give the film the energy it needs.
Beyond the story of the movie being generic, the music feels rather uninspired. Of course, no one expects a song as iconic as “Pure Imagination” to come out of this musical. Yet, the song they’re pushing for awards consideration — “A World of Your Own” — feels incredibly safe and isn’t even the best on the soundtrack.
That being said, the film does manage to get some true magic out of its visuals. That Wonka is shot by a cinematographer as talented as Chung-hoon Chung (The Handmaiden, It) will allow it to delight cinephiles, at least in an aesthetic sense. The contributions of costume designer Lindy Hemming and production designer Nathan Crowley also cannot be ignored.
Ultimately, the biggest obstacle that prevents Wonka from being great is that Chalamet is nowhere near as strong in his role as either of his predecessors. King is trying really hard to lean into a sort of boyish charm that Chalamet sadly does not have. Worse yet, his singing voice isn’t all that strong. The result is a movie that should be carried on its lead performer’s shoulders but falls to everyone else.
And in terms of the supporting cast, Olivia Colman and Paterson Joseph, playing the villains, are doing the Lord’s work. The duo goes over the top in a way that infuses the film with a much-needed feeling of whimsy. Colman, in particular, is clearly having the time of her life playing an exaggeratedly tyrannical antagonist to Wonka.
The rest of the A-list names in the ensemble aren’t given enough screen time to make much of an impact. Hugh Grant is fun as an Oompa Loompa but only has a few scenes. The talented Keegan-Michael Key is wasted on a recurring gag that is painfully unfunny. And others, like Matt Lucas, Rowan Atkinson, and Jim Carter, feel completely unutilized.
It would be impossible to call Wonka a bad movie based on the strength of its visuals alone. However, bland songs, an uninspired story, and a tragic misuse of most of its cast mean that this film will hardly be remembered next year, much less for generations to come, unlike the other iterations of this character.
Wonka hits theaters on December 15.