It’s not often you get to see Robert De Niro playing a cross-dressing pirate, but that’s exactly the world you get in Stardust. Based upon the novel by Sandman legend Neil Gaiman, it is directed by Matthew Vaughn from a script penned by Kick-Ass adaptor Jane Goldman.
In the English town of Wall, Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox) hopes to win the heart of fair maiden Victoria (Sienna Miller). While having a picnic, the two see a shooting star and Tristan promises to go beyond the wall and retrieve for her as a gift in exchange for her hand in marriage. But once past the wall finds himself in the World of Stormhold, and discovers the star is actually a person called Yvaine (Claire Daines). Together they venture back toward Wall, encountering the heir to the throne (Mark Strong), an evil witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) and a sky pirate (De Niro) and find themselves wrapped up in race to become the new king.
Stardust is clearly influenced by the likes of The Princess Bride and Time Bandits, although lacks the punch and heart of both. What it does have though is plenty of character, from De Niro’s cross-dressing pirate captain to Pfeiffer’s scenery-chewing witch. There’s plenty of the trademark Gaiman uniqueness throughout the script and the whole cast, which includes Mark Williams, Rupert Everett, Jason Flemyng, Henry Cavill, Ian McKellen and Peter O’Toole are clearly having a blast subverting their own images and adding elements of pantomime to every scene.
At the films heart is the relationship between Cox’s Tristan and Claire Danes’ Yvaine. From their opening bickering scenes, through adventure and eventually love, they form the heart of the film and it is a strong heart. Both have a clear development arc and by the end it’s difficult not to be engaged with their actually quite realistic relationship. Despite their origins, they are the least ˜odd’ characters in the film and allow the audience a gateway into the madness.
Despite these positives, Stardust does suffer from some poor pacing, and baggy middle section and an abundance of distracting and mediocre effects. It would have benefited from a little less CGI and a little more puppetry and animatronics, but this is a common problem in modern cinema. Fortunately Jane Goldman’s script adaptation remains faithful enough to the source to retain enough entertainment that these become forgivable missteps.
Never quite reaching the lofty heights of the wonderful The Princess Bride, or the slightly lesser Time Bandits, Stardust is still a worthy addition to the fantasy film genre. Packed with character, it won’t be remembered as a classic, but is a fun way to spend a few hours.