Five years later and a clause in a contract somewhere ensured it was slightly cheaper for a production company to make a sequel than it was to default; the one guy they could persuade to return, despite being dead, did so, they moved production to Lithuania and this is the result. And you know what? It’s still better than the first one.
The country, or town, of Ishmir is pretty peaceful, it seems. There’s a council of wizards who all seem decent, a ruler we never see, and all the people are happy. The star is Berek (Mark Dymond), a former captain of the Kingsguard turned councillor; his wife, Melora (Clemency Burton-Hill), is a wizard who’s trying to learn divine magic, as opposed to arcane magic, and is struggling a bit. There’s a strange and completely undeveloped sub-plot with the new captain of the Kingsguard, but we don’t have time to worry about that as Damidar is back!
Bruce Payne, clearly short of money that week, is back, and dying at the end of the previous movie is only a minor inconvenience for him. He’s found the Orb of Phallus, and he’s going to use it to come back from being a sort of zombie and take over the world! Okay, it’s not called the Orb of Phallus, but it sounds a bit like that and I’m for damn sure not researching how to spell the name of the MacGuffin from a decade-old Dungeons & Dragons sequel. He has it and wants to wake up the sleeping black dragon inside a nearby mountain and use its power to wipe out Ishmir (quite why he hates this one town so much is a mystery we never discover the answer to); the people of Ishmir also know about his plan and try to stop it. No “hey, guys, are you sure the dragon is real? Perhaps we ought to wait and see if it comes to eat us before worrying about it?”, which is pretty refreshing.
From here on out, it decides to become a proper Dungeons & Dragons adventure. The town hires a group of heroes to help them, and it looks exactly like the average group of adventurers from a game. There’s Lux, the hot barbarian (Ellie Chidzey); Dorian the cleric, with a big magic hammer (Steven Elder); Ormaline the even hotter elf wizard (Lucy Gaskell); Nim the middle-aged rogue (Tim Stern); and Berek himself, who despite getting on a bit and not being quite as fast or strong as he was, is the best Ishmir has (the new captain is away at war when most of this happens). They make reference to a few stories from the D&D universe, and it seems like they’re actually trying. The difference between having the money and not caring what happens next, and thinking “if this is good, it might help us in the future” is evidently quite wide. Given the sheer volume of words accumulated around D&D, it should be relatively simple to pick out a few good ones to make a movie about.
Although you might not recognise the names above, them and the rest of the supporting cast are a gang of British TV actors you’ll probably recognise, British being the default accent of the olden days. Although none of them look particularly fighter-y, they’re all at least taking the material seriously – there are light moments, just not Marlon Wayans acting like a modern comedian-style funny. And it’s quite impressive to see most of them with arcs, and not just “they all disappear at the end for absolutely no reason”.
The special effects aren’t great, but it’s to be expected – cheap CGI for the dragon, that sort of thing. I’ll give them less leeway on the other stuff, though, which can be roughly broken down into “sets” and “makeup”. The medieval castles they use have all been repaired with cheap ugly modern brick and it looks terrible; quite why no-one thought of using angles to cover this stuff up is beyond me (or, you know, actually covering it up). And the makeup! Ignoring that Ormaline remains perfectly quaffed and painted even when half her arm has disappeared into a concrete block, the biggest criminal is the lich (a sort of demon wizard / fighter) who teams up with Damidar. His face is full-on demon-face, like a good version of the creature from the Neil Breen classic “I Am Here….Now”, but the rest of his body is normal healthy human. Again, why not just put him in long sleeves and gloves if you’re not going to make him up? How did they look at the rushes and think “yes, this is definitely the best we can do”? Compared to that, the terrible half-zombie makeup at the end can be ignored.
After all that, though, the reason it’s better than the original (and it’s not even close) is the script. The story is interesting and fun, the characters are believable and don’t just argue to generate conflict (although they do argue), and I wanted to see where it all ended up. Everyone has a job to do, and they’re allowed to play to their strengths. I know this sounds like damning with faint praise, but if you’ve seen some of the trash I’ve seen, you’ll know that just something as simple as making sure B follows A is rarely ever simple.
All this is even more surprising when you see the names attached. Writer / director Gerry Lively is responsible for part 3 of the franchise, 7 years later, but other than that relatively little else (he was also the cinematographer on “Hellraiser 3”). This is his only writing credit, same for Robert Kimmel. I’m not saying it’s amazing or anything like that, but it’s significantly more competent than its big-budget forebear. Perhaps the Lithuanian crew were all waiting for an opportunity to show their skills.
Anyway, you could safely live the rest of your life without watching this movie, but parts 2 and 3 are perfectly competent adventure movies.
Rating: thumbs up