I have only played D&D like threes times in my life, when I was a tween. And I’m not sure I ever actually made it through the entirety of the 2000 movie. I know I’ve seen parts of it a bunch of times, enough for teenage me to rate it and pretend he’d seen it.
But I have seen a ton of fantasy films, especially ’80s fantasy films. Some of them are poppy fields movies for me. And I like finding bad ones I’ve never seen for laughs. For me, there is little more fun than watching bad fantasy or sci fi from the past (or present).
I don’t particularly like fantasy as an adult, unless it’s a magnificent technical achievement, like The Lord of the Rings, or it’s super revisionist, like Game Thrones. Because, well, fantasy is for kids. Fantasy is fine as a child but, as an adult, most fantasy is puerile, with black and white morality and plots that resemble each other way too much. There are only two good ways to handle fantasy for adults, in my mind: turning the genre on its head or jokes.
And this movie has a lot of jokes.
I understand that some hardcore D&D fans might look at this film as a mess from a source material perspective – are these threads from different campaigns? – or might look at it as not serious enough, or might not appreciate that it’s a heist movie, or whatever. But the way you take something niche like this and you give it mass appeal is you make it fun…for everyone, not just people who play the game.
This movie is fun, but it’s also smart.
Because the filmmakers, who previously made adult comedies, have clearly also watched a lot of fantasy films. Enough that, in addition to the wise-cracking and buddy comedy humour, there are also some great fantasy film convention jokes. One of the best of them is a site gag I won’t spoil, playing off a trope you see in many recent fantasy 21st century fantasy films. It’s something I’ve honestly wondered about myself so I was really happy to see it in a film.
Though this gets corny, as all fantasy is at bottom, the light touch mostly continues through the entire film. They play on the typical fantasy story, with side quests and a motley crew of heroes, and the heist element just makes the quest thing a little more relatable. It all works extremely well and makes this film a contender for greatest fantasy comedy of all time. (What other movies are on that list?) It’s a textbook example of how to adapt a non-literary piece of intellectual property into a film. (I wanted to say non-narrative but of course the issue with adapting D&D is that here are an infinite number of narratives, not no narratives.)
PS The star of Freaks and Geeks cowrote and codirected this – what a weird career arc.