Before he was The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen in Netflix’s Daredevil, Charlie Cox explored the world filled with magic, mysteries, swashbuckling pirates and adventure. Directed by the one and only Matthew Vaughn, famous for his work on the Kingsman series and X-Men: First Class, let’s take a look at 2007’s Stardust.
Just outside the magical kingdom of Stormhold exists a walled village aptly named Wall. One day, a man named Dunstan Thorn (played by Ben Barnes) manages to bypass the wall and meets a woman who gives him a magical charm and the two have a child named Tristan. Eighteen years later, Tristan (played by Charlie Cox) yearns to leave the village and explore the world. Meanwhile, the dying King of the kingdom of Stormhold throws his magic ruby into the sky, while his seven sons fight for the throne. The ruby hits a star out of the sky. Tristan sees the falling star and promises Victoria, a girl he fancies, that he would go retrieve the star for her. When he reaches the star, he finds out that the star is a young woman named Yvaine (played by Claire Danes). Meanwhile, an evil witch named Lamia (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) seeks to find Yvaine to eat her heart to gain her powers.
The film’s plot is pretty simple at heart: a fantasy-adventure flick with a main character who grows from a young man to an adult and gets everything he wishes for in life. While I normally don’t appreciate very linear plots, in this case, the plot’s simplicity works due to Charlie Cox’s charisma. He perfectly encapsulates the timid and shy aspect of Tristan, and his evolution to the more mature version of Tristan at the end is satisfying to watch.
Additionally, I enjoyed much of the supporting cast, especially Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro. Michelle Pfeiffer does a wonderful job portraying a dangerous and evil witch, combining cunning and beauty that captures our attention. De Niro plays Captain Shakespeare, a captain of a ship full of sky pirates. He pretends to be a ruthless and no-nonsense leader, but secretly is a kind man who has never spilled a drop of blood. Oh and he’s also in the closet. He is perhaps the most wholesome part of the movie, offering Tristan and Yvaine food, shelter, and clothing in addition to granting them safe passage. When his men later find out about his sexuality, they still accept him as their captain. This movie came out in 2007 and is surprisingly inclusive.
Stardust’s blend of the fantasy elements is done spectacularly well. Oftentimes, fantasy-adventure films never fully explore the world they are set in. However, Stardust includes elements such as flying ships, unicorns, witches and magic, and properly utilizes all these elements, further adding to its world building. The film’s visual spectacle is further enhanced by Matthew Vaughn’s cinematography. For example, he builds tension and suspicion by using very close-up shots of people’s faces and eyes. This is used brilliantly in the scenes where the seven brothers are vying for the throne. Regarding the special effects, they mostly hold up but there are a few moments where the CGI doesn’t look realistic. For example, near the beginning, we are shown miniature elephants in a cage which look like they’re made of rubber.
On the downside, the film does contain a lot of age-old tropes of fantasy films as well, for example, the protagonist who goes from zero to hero, a rushed training montage, and the romance through abduction trope. However, these tropes generally didn’t detract from the quality of the film. What did bother me was Claire Danes’ performance as Yvaine. I didn’t buy into her romance with Tristan and it appeared that she didn’t have much on-screen chemistry with Charlie either.
Despite the film’s flaws, Stardust is an enjoyable and heartwarming film that will leave you entertained. The cast is likable and the fantasy world keeps you engaged. Personally, this was the second time I saw Charlie Cox as a leading man and I’m surprised that this was actually his first film, as he definitely held his own against veteran actors like Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer. With his charismatic performance in Stardust, it’s no wonder why he was cast as Matt Murdock in Netflix’s Daredevil.