It's a straight-to-video sequel to Dragonheart. I might perhaps have liked it better if I'd lowered my expectations, but frankly I think I'd have hated it no matter what.
The good news is that it's doing a convincing impression of a movie. I never realised it was straight-to-video. The CGI isn't always well integrated with the live-action footage, but in itself it looks perfectly acceptable and any minor stylistic choices are in accordance with the kiddified tone in general. The dragon looks very slightly Muppet-like, but that makes sense's reasonable. He's a youngster. Of course he'll have a big head, rounded features and so on.
The cast aren't terrible either, although they don't compare with the original. Dragonheart (1996) had Sean Connery, Dennis Quaid, David Thewlis, Pete Postlethwaite, Jason Isaacs and Brian Thompson. This film has Robby Benson, Christopher Masterson, Harry Van Gorkum and Rona Figueroa. I've never heard of these people, but with one exception they do their jobs acceptably enough. Mind you, I think it was filmed somewhere cost-efficient like Flobalobalobavakia, with the supporting players having names like Vladimir Oktavec, Vlado Durdik and Stano Satko. It's in Eastern Europe, anyway. Nothing wrong with that either, of course.
Mind you, Doctor Who fans might notice John Woodnutt (Spearhead from Space, Frontier in Space, Terror of the Zygons, The Keeper of Traken).
The main thing I didn't like is the lead character, played by Christopher Masterson. He's written in a challenging way and the performance made me hate him. The film took a long time to recover from that. I was often cheering for the villains.
Firstly, the script. It was nominated for a Best Children's Script award by the Writers Guild of America, so theoretically there's good stuff here. What's impressive is that Masterson's character isn't pure and noble from the beginning. In fact, he's a dick. For a while I thought he was a monk who didn't want to be a monk, instead wanting to be famous and have adventures. He gets excited about swords and fighting. He'll blow off promises to his friends because he's more interested in becoming a knight. He's capable of being insensitive towards the dragon. He even enjoys being mean to a friendly young monk of his own age (Matt Hickey). This puzzled me. The character made more sense when I worked out that he was actually just a stable boy who worked at the monastery, but unfortunately that didn't make me like him any better.
Theoretically I like the idea of showing the redemption of a dick. It's a brave choice. Masterson does become more likeable over the course of the film, managing to do something human for the first time at the 32-minute mark and more or less becoming a nice guy by the end of the movie. The dragon likes him, anyway, and we like the dragon.
Unfortunately I get the feeling that we're meant to like Masterson from the beginning... and I didn't. He's not evil or anything. He's handsome and he has a broad American accent in a world where everyone else is from the Royal Shakespeare Company. I think we're meant to think him a cheeky chappie, but I thought he was a brat.
The villains are much more interesting. For starters, I love their snobbery. That's the second most enjoyable thing in this movie, watching these snooty bastards treating people like scum and enforcing a class-based curfew, based on colour-coded tunics that everyone is forced to wear. They swagger around as if they own the place and say things like "peasants should never meet the gaze of their betters". One of them also likes bullying Masterson, which is always to be encouraged. This movie is attacking snobbery and social status, both through the villains' attitudes and through Masterson's misplaced and annoying desire to be a knight. I like this theme, which is also a good fit with the cut-glass English accents.
So you've got villains who are capable of being roaring snobs... but at the same time, they're being explicitly portrayed as cooler than the hero. Masterson loses his first sword fight and gets pushed in the water, while Harry Van Gorkum at one point impersonates Errol Flynn. Masterson's an idiot, while Van Gorkum seems quite efficient (albeit evil) at doing his job. Masterson habitually tells lies so weak and unconvincing that you'll want to kick him in the nuts, whereas Van Gorkum passes an honesty law that punishes liars with ten lashes. I like this guy! I'd have volunteered to whip Masterson personally, in fact. At this point in the film, I was weighing up the honesty law (yay!) versus colour-coded tunics (boo) and concluding that we've had worse governments.
Other things of note include:
(a) two Chinese dragon experts who know martial arts, which is quite cool. One of them is the only significant female character in a male-dominated movie, so of course she can out-kick the lot of them. I also liked the glimpse of Chinese dragon, which was nice since movies normally only do the Western kind.
(b) a handful of gags with farting, spitting and/or cowpats, which were my favourite parts of the movie and generally involved the dragon.
(c) a nice twist at the end with the prophecy.
(d) dragon physiology. The fire lung is a nice idea and makes sense of something that's traditional but has always seemed very silly. The ice lung though was new on me and I wish they'd made more of it.
There are bits I liked here, most of them in the second half, but overall this was a slog. I'd have bailed at the half-hour mark if I hadn't been going to write this review. I was clock-watching. I didn't care. I couldn't even hope that Masterson might die, because the kiddified tone made it clear that that wasn't on the cards. Furthermore a couple of bits are juvenile enough to be tiresome, such as (a) everything getting stuck in one tree in a fight, or (b) "a dragon must be very cautious before showing his heart". Yes, I realise that that's literally true in this franchise, but it still felt syrupy.
The finale is good, until the baddie gets vanquished so easily that you could play it to your friends and get laughs. The plot uses hackneyed fantasy elements (prophecy, magic artefacts, etc.) and isn't in a hurry to offer explanations. Such moments thus appear meaningless. This film isn't worthless and it contains things I thought were of interest, but unfortunately they're being bogged down in a swamp of... frankly, it's mostly Masterson.
"Okay, let's swoop down and scare the villagers."