The Portable Door–One of the best fantasy films in years is now streaming

Review by C.J. Bunce

We’ve already seen two fantastic fantasy movies this year: the eagerly awaited Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, and the animated adventure Nimona.  Like Nimona, The Portable Door is a welcome surprise.  Most importantly the story is pitch-perfect.  We’d expect no less coming from The Jim Henson Company, right?  It’s billed as a fantasy/comedy, but that doesn’t quite capture it.  It has an endless stream of distributors, probably because the marketers hadn’t seen anything like it before.  Guillermo Del Toro for mainstream audiences?  Close, but it’s more than that.  Maybe because it’s Harry Potter… for adults.  Only it’s better than the Harry Potter movies.  It’s also better than The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and most of the adapted fantasy novels you can think of.  Add two of the best roles yet for both Christoph Waltz and Sam Neill and… Why isn’t everyone talking about this movie?

Did you like any of these movies:  The Adjustment Bureau, Spiderhead, Crossroads, Gremlins, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Office Space, the Chronicles of Narnia movies, or Beauty and the Beast?  It’s none of these, and yet it borrows memorable, fantastical elements from each.  It’s most like The Adjustment Bureau, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, based on Philip K. Dick’s The Adjustment Team, which may also make The Portable Door a bit science fiction.  It’s not quite horror, and it stays on this side of anything really frightening or gory, but you could see del Toro enjoying the heck out of it.  It’s also similar to–and as good as–the miniseries The Lost Room, which saw a man desperate to find his daughter when she’s lost in a hotel room that’s really a portal to anywhere and nowhere.

That sounds like a lot to unpack.  But if you liked any of these concepts, climb aboard. The Portable Door takes the hero’s journey and gives it a mystery edge that viewers can follow along with.

Paul Carpenter and Sophie Pettingel are two twenty-something Londoners interviewing for their next job.  They find themselves, coincidentally or not, at J.W. Wells & Co., that giant megacorp that we all know about that has its hands in seemingly everything.  Humphrey Wells is the CEO, and along with his henchmen, er… his lead management team–of Dennis Tanner, Nienke Van Spee, and Countess Judy, Wells is out to change the world as we know it.  Sophie gets hired on the fast-track, and has an employment contract that says as much (and more), but she’s also a bit of a guinea pig.  You see, Wells is involved with that realm of reality that involves coincidence, gut feelings, happenstance, and chance encounters.  Only Wells wants to use his influence in this realm to change everything, everywhere.  Paul is hired because Wells knows he has a certain knack for finding things, even if he otherwise is a bit of a mess at everything.

The MacGuffin is Wells’ missing portable door.  What’s a portable door?  Paul wonders, too, as he is tasked with finding it.  Whatever it is.  After this movie you might think more the next time you mindlessly click on a license agreement online, too.

Paul is played by The OA’s Patrick Gibson, and Sophie is played by Sophie Wilde (Tom Jones).  Wells is played by twice-Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, and here he has more opportunity to show some range than in his Tarantino roles.  Tanner is played by The Hunt for Red October and Jurassic Park’s Sam Neill.  Both Waltz and Neill get to dabble in dual roles, of a sort.  More supporting characters are Countess Judy, played by The Lord of the Rings and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina star Miranda Otto, and Rachel House (Cowboy Bebop, Thor: Ragnarok) plays Van Spee, who sometimes sports Medusa hair.  Chris Pang plays another manager, but the strangest and most fun is the receptionist, played by Jessica de Gouw (Arrow, The Last Tycoon) who seems to have channeled Parker Posey for this performance.  Plus goblins!

Jeffrey Walker directs writer Leon Ford’s adaptation of a script from Tom Holt’s series of Wells novels, and he translates the right amount of romance and comedy into a story that will keep viewers guessing what lies around the next turn, a fantasy with other genres sprinkled in.  If you like D&D-type fantasy adventures, you may find the journey in The Portable Door even more like your last game night than this year’s D&D movie.

The production design by Matthew Putland (Winchester, Mystery Road) is original and superb.  The movie has the vibe of the Harry Potter universe if it was set in the real world and the kids were grown up and out of college.  In a word, it’s delightful.

Don’t let the abysmal marketing effort fool you.  You may agree this is the best movie you see this year.  Don’t miss The Portable Door, now streaming on Prime Video.

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