Marking yet another live-action remake from the king of the genre, Aladdin, directed and written by Guy Ritchie, plays as the most diverse and “vibrant” of any before it. Infusing an Arabic and Indian taste to every set, there is no denying that Ritchie and company went all out to deliver the best experience possible. However, often times, despite their best efforts, Aladdin can’t quite escape its gaping flaws, ones that continue to eat away over the course of its seemingly slim 128-minute runtime. It’s a woefully undercooked concoction from a mixed bag of lead performances to a painstakingly monotone aesthetic, but also a sprinkling of charming moments. These moments come too far and few however, leaving the between of Aladdin exposed and vulnerable as Ritchie’s spirited direction wears out surprisingly fast.
Starring Mena Massoud in the titular role, Aladdin is a remake of the 1992 animated classic of the same name. Yet as a remake, Ritchie injects fresh blood into the fray, mostly in the form of modernly topical subplots and further characterization. Sure, Ritchie’s efforts to create his own vision of the story are appreciated and do tie up several loose strings from the original in effective ways, but it’s no accident that the best portions of the film are ones where Ritchie stays by the script. Inserting a subplot of Naomi Scott’s Jasmine speaking against the traditional values of her country’s ruling is interesting at points and certainly inspiring for little girls everywhere, but Ritchie never earns the arc’s conclusion with the journey seeming more like a race against the clock rather than natural progression. That criticism could, unfortunately, be applied to a large majority of Ritchie’s additions. They’re all clever on paper but never quite work within the confines of a 128-minute runtime.
The collision of so many uneven elements creates a wide array of narrative problems. The film quickly glosses over its exposition and genuinely setting the stakes for its messy CGI concluding act. It’s an issue that the most diehard of Disney fans will ignore, after all, they’re the crowd that will have the entire original memorized by heart, but for newcomers, this latest rendition is simply inaccessible and requires both prior understanding of these characters and exposition regarding the world. Admittedly, screenwriter John August in addition to Ritchie do face a near-impossible juggling act, leaving multiple arcs underdeveloped, and the uneven roster of performances doesn’t do the pair any favors.
Mena Massoud definitely looks the part as Aladdin, and he quickly warms up to the role as the film chugs along, but there are definitely moments where he falters. He lacks on-screen charisma, and it shows, particularly in the earlier portions. With the screen time divided smartly between Naomi Scott’s superior performance as Jasmine and Massoud, it’s not a crippling blow, but one that is disappointing. His best scenes are with Naomi Scott’s Jasmine with their on-screen chemistry clearly present. Ritchie, once again, might sprint to the finish line to wrap everything up, leaving the conclusion of the arc middling, but both Scott and Massoud made a definite effort, and in large part, they succeed.