The story is about young paladin Grayson (Jack Derges) whose father was kidnapped by servants of the evil Nhagruul the Foul, a wicked sorcerer who 2000 years ago was defeated and his remains turned into a tome of pure evil that was split into three parts and scattered across the globe. In order to find his father and stop the heretics from reassembling the book, Grayson goes against his nature and joins a party of chaotic warriors and magic users in the hopes they will lead him to his destination.
I have no love for the other films in this series, but I have played a few games of D&D in my time so I know what’s up. Regardless of how much a fan of the game director Courtney Solomon was, his directorial debut, the first movie, was just pure torture. The second movie, Wrath of the Dragon God (see my review here) was a made for SyFy flick and actually felt like you were watching a tabletop game play out in front of you. It wasn’t good but it was definitely better than its predecessor. The Book of Vile Darkness is a mix of the two. It sucks a whole lot, but there are cool moments that remind you how awesome the actual source material can be when filtered through a great Dungeon Master.
Director Gerry Lively, who also directed the second film, took a large step backwards with this sequel. It’s plainly obvious that the budget is less than any of the other films in the series and that forced him to cut a lot of corners. The actors are pretty terrible, the sets and costumes are cheap looking (especially Akordia’s fake ass glue on facial piercings), the props look like shit and the scope is pretty small for something that’s built up as much as it is during the rad animated opening scene. You can tell he’s trying to overcome these obstacles, but he fails most of the time.
The script is mostly to blame. Screenwriter Brian Rudnick gives the events a gameplay type of feel, but fails to make the characters anything but one dimensional. Sure it’s kind of cool to see a paladin go against his training and allow all these horrible atrocities to occur right in front of him. At one point he becomes worse than the people in his party. The issue is that he flips on a dime not unlike Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith. There’s no build-up to it. It just happens. The main plot about the book being reassembled by Nhagruul’s acolytes is tossed aside after the opening credits and is only brought back up during the last ten minutes. And the ending… WTF?! I’ve seen some anticlimactic finales but this one has to be in the top 5.
Lead actor Jack Derges, who is Nicholas Hoult’s doppelganger, is trying his hardest to sell his character’s switch to the dark side, but he just comes off as a bi-polar whiny douche. He changes sides again just as quickly in the end and it’s an awkward moment. His co-stars Eleanor Gecks (Akordia the Psion), Habib Nasib Nader (Vimak the Barbarian), Lex Daniel (Seith the Rogue) and Barry Aird (Bezz the Sorcerer) are decent in varying degrees with Aird being the best of the bunch. He sells his character’s cool powers better than anyone else can in the cast.
And what is the one thing all Dungeons & Dragons games contain? Battles. All the fights in this flick are a freaking joke. Everyone is pulling their punches, whiffing, obviously sticking their sword under their opponent’s armpit, hitting the ground past a fallen foe and faking some strange looking martial arts moves. They’re choreographed worse than a fight in an episode of classic Star Trek! Another laughable aspect are the weapons Vimek carries - a supposedly metal axe and a spear. They look like painted foam and when he rubs the axe blade against the spear tip it sounds like wood on wood. Seriously?!
There’s just too much stupid shit going on here to be completely enjoyable. There are some cool parts (the battle with the red dragon, Bezz making people explode and his cool eyeball trick), the special effects look pretty damned good (that living dead girl was animated so well, as were the dragon and the citadel in the sky) and the basic premise was interesting. And then there’s all the crud I mentioned earlier, along with some stupefying stuff like Akordia’s cell phone tiara, the convenient ending and random occurrences (Grayson, upon finding out his father has been kidnapped, decides to look up the town’s prostitute for some advice).
I think a reboot is a fine idea. Out of three attempts one has been kind of okay. I just hope they find some talented people to make the franchise viable again. The reason the game is still so popular after nearly 40 years is that the only limiting factor to the world and experiences within are the players’ imaginations, and imagination is something all of these flicks have been missing. Let’s pray to the film gods that Warner Bros. chooses their adventuring party wisely.