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The 'Dungeons & Dragons' Movie Is a Repository of Perfection

By Rebecca Pahle | Underappreciated Gems | March 16, 2017 |


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It’s been 61 days since I waxed rhapsodic about Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, the greatest movie ever made. Hopefully that means you’ve watched it 61 times since and are now champing at the bit for another bad—yet simultaneously amazing—fantasy movie recommendation. (J/k, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is not bad.) My friends… have you seen Dungeons & Dragons?

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I know you’ve heard of Dungeons & Dragons, because it’s one of those movies that’s famous for being terrible. Released the same year as The X-Men, it tried for that movie’s approach to its geeky subject matter: Fun, but still treating its story and characters with gravity, a marked departure from the Joel Schumacher-tinged goofery that had dominated the years immediately prior. If anything deserves a full-scale, epic adaptation, it’s one of the most influential fantasy properties of all time, right?

The X-Men would kick off a new wave of superhero movies. Dungeons & Dragons would faceplant horribly. It is a beauty to behold.

Any discussion of Dungeons & Dragons must begin and end with Jeremy Irons as the villainous mage Profion. Irons, no word of a lie, took this movie because “I’d just bought a castle, I had to pay for it somehow.” I hesitate it to even call it a bad performance. “Good.” “Bad.” The English language is unequal to the task of describing the transcendent batshittery Irons gets up to here. Irons knew exactly what he was doing, namely delivering one of the most famously unhinged performances in film history. Jeremy Irons as Profion is the spiritual antecedent of Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending. I would sell my mother’s organs for a chance to see these two characters in a cage match.

Alongside Irons you have Bruce Payne as the henchman Damodar, or, as everyone who’s ever seen this movie thinks of him, “Blue Lip Guy.” Payne’s performance often gets thrown around as one of the worst in genre movie history, which is absolute bullshit. If you share most of your scenes with a scenery-chewing Jeremy Irons, you bring your fucking A game, and that’s exactly what Payne does. Pick a frame from this scene. Any frame. I guarantee you it is perfection.

But Profion and Blue Lip Guy are only two characters in this movie. The two best characters. But still. Our lead is Justin Whalin, aka knockoff Devon Sawa, a scrappy thief whose devil-may-care exterior hides the burgeoning soul of a hero. Man, I wonder why his career never took off.

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His best friend is the cowardly yet loyal Snails, played by Marlon Wayans, who spends the whole movie Marlon Wayans-ing it up all over the place. This is a Ye Olde Fantasy movie, and his character wears a fucking hoodie.

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Rounding out the main central trio is the snooty mage Marina, who’s determined to protect the kind and noble Empress (Thora Birch) from the scheming Profion by keeping the latter from a staff that will allow him to control the most powerful kind of dragon. First introduced as a librarian with a severe up-do and glasses, Marina eventually lets her hair down—literally and figuratively—and falls for Ridley. Yes, she gets Rachael Leigh Cooked. What’s even better is that Marina literally loses her glasses between shots. They’re there for the first five minutes, the camera cuts away from her, and when it cuts back they’re gone, never to be seen again. Where do they go? Doesn’t she need them to see? Is not having them the reason she spends half her screentime making some variation on this face?

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“It’s not that I’m pulling the cutesy ingenue thing, I’m just trying really hard to focus on what’s in front of me because I cannot see.”

Dungeons & Dragons is a constant tug-of-war between the intentionally batshit and the unintentionally batshit, with the scales skewing heavily towards the latter whenever Jeremy Irons isn’t around. Let’s take Birch as Empress Savina, who believes that the long-standing inequality between mages and non-mages should be abolished. Her performance, coming only a year after her breakout turn in American Beauty, is mind-bogglingly wooden. Between Irons and Birch, Dungeons & Dragons may encompass the entire spectrum of acting, best (yeah, I said best, fucking deal with it) to worst. Irons intentionally goes full bonkers, but Birch plays it straight, delivering lines like “All people deserve to be free and equal, whether commoner or Mage! I know this within the depths of my soul!” with a painful earnestness.

So much of Dungeons & Dragons is played straight. This movie wants to be all epic and meaningful—commentaries on classism and bigotry! big action scenes! stirring calls to stand up against oppression!—except nobody involved has the skills to pull it off. There’s a full-scale dragon air battle in the third act that’s made up of piss-poor CGI and medium shots of Thora Birch from the waist up, ostensibly riding a dragon but really shimmying back and forth a little bit while sitting down. Speaking of special effects:

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Dungeons & Dragons has the heart, soul, and technical know-how of an ’80s B-movie, yet it was somehow made in the year 2000. I’m not convinced anyone involved in this movie had ever set eyes on a computer before.

I haven’t even gotten into the dwarf Elwood (Lee Arenberg, who would later play a dwarf on Once Upon a Time—play to your strengths, I guess), or how Tom Baker and Riff-Raff from Rocky Horror are in this movie, or elf tracker Norda (Kristen Wilson), who sports some of the most impressively terrible boob armor ever known to man.

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Is this made of plastic? Did you get it at Party City?!?!?

Empress Savina’s big finale outfit is similarly insane. I appreciate the medieval BDSM scalemail drag queen aesthetic (midriff armor), but… armor over your hair? Really? That shit’s going to snag!

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Meanwhile, Jeremy Irons is wearing a formal dickey…

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…while Thora Birch aims for “‘Dark Lili’ in Legend” but lands at “mildly angry goth kid who likes to shop at Hot Topic.”

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I could spend hours talking about how I love this stupid movie, but, if you will, I beg your indulgence to go full BuzzFeed for a moment and let the reaction gifs speak for themselves.

When you and the BFF are planning some rank chicanery and/or foolishness:

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When the thirst is too real:

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When someone says something stupid and you try to play it off with sarcasm but you really are pissed:

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When you’re gathering your friends for the revolution:

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When your makeup is on point and you’re ready to party:

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When people:

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When someone says something particularly stupid about dungeons and/or dragons:

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When you read what Trump tweeted overnight:

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When your best friend can control dragons:

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When you and your BFF are being the coolest people in the whole wide world:

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When the spirit moves you:

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When the BFF exhibits questionable taste in romantic partners:

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When you’re feeling super chill about the world and your place in it:

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When the Dark Tower trailer drops:

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When the Last Jedi trailer drops:

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When an MRA wanders into the comment section:

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When you have a case of the sads:

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When you’re a murderer but you’re also feeling pretty good about yourself.

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When TK assigned you Rock Dog:

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