The Mask of Mirrors is a rich and thickly-embroidered story of intrigue, conspiracy and magic woven throughout a Venetian city where religion and magic are as much a part of the city as the cobblestones themselves.
Into this society divided by class, privilege and heritage, drops Ren. A girl seeking to mend the unmendable ties of a broken family. But that’s not true at all, and it’s only the surface frosting of subterfuge on a layer-cake so deep at times you feel you may have lost sight of what the truth ever was.
We follow Ren and become familiar with her goals, and the game she plays to achieve them. As soon as those objectives have some sort of clarity, the focus is gradually but relentlessly drawn to the multifaceted objectives of every other group in the city, from the crimelords to the cultural extremists, the noble houses to the smugglers to the city guards (called the Vigil), and most interestingly of all, to the characters who straddle several camps, cultures or families, and seek always to retain their precarious balance.
There’s a lot to like about Shadow in the Cloud, including a great performance by Chloe Grace Moretz. There are also some ballsy special effects that took a historical war setting and injected some almost-Marvel-like magic, however unrealistic it appeared on the screen at the time.
That said, none of that takes away from the fact that the film fails at it’s basic premise. It doesn’t make you care very much for the characters or the outcome. The misdirection used to keep you from guessing what’s really going on makes you care about the wrong things. When I finally understood what was happening, I wasn’t emotionally invested in that outcome.
The film doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s a weird mish-mash of different genres. Is it a war movie? Is it a horror movie? A movie about a female hero or an air crew? It’s all of these things, but none of them completely. They’re not intertwined effectively. As a consequence, it doesn’t quite succeed at any of the things it sets out to do.
Is it worth watching? If you’re looking for a 90-minute distraction and your expectations are medium-to-low, then there’s enough fun stuff on the screen for you to enjoy it with a bag of chips. If you’re looking for Christopher Nolan-style storytelling and narrative complexity and coherence you’re going to be sorely disappointed.