I really haven’t been keeping up with my weekly writing regimen, but oh well. I’ve been swamped with homework and barely been able to breathe at all this semester. As I write now, we are in Seattle for SakuraCon - our yearly Spring Break adventure. Trevor (my husband) and I watched the premier of the Dragon Age animated movie. The creators of Dragon Age worked with Funimation to put it together, so we were pretty stoked. Right after that we went to a panel about sexism in the geeky-nerdy community and how we can fight it – so that definitely has colored our review of it. After the feminism panel, we went to a fantastic Indian restaurant called A Taste of India. As we waited in the incredibly long line to get in, we discussed the movie at length and jotted down notes for this article. Therefore, it really is from both of us. This will be heavy in spoilers.
The Plot – Spoilers!
There’s this Elf girl/McGuffin with this amazing power to command animals with her brain. She’s been kidnapped by the badguys (blood mages – which are really simplified and dumbed down for the movie) so it’s up to the Seekers (basically the investigative branch of the Templar) to find and rescue her! Twice. They succeed the first time, but instead of putting her back with the Circle (henceforth simplified as The Good Mages) the head of the Templar said they should keep her there at their headquarters to more easily protect her. But it was an evil plot to kill off The Divine (basically the Pope of the Chantry which totally isn’t the Catholic Church guys! You can tell because they’ve got female leaders, and the Catholics would never let women be leaders! See! So totally not Catholics!) so that a different woman could be in control of it all. She’s conspiring with the head of the Templar and he’s conspiring with the Blood Mages who steal and magically control the little girl who can control animals so she can control dragons who will attack the Chantry on the 10th year festival, and kill off The Divine and all of the Chanters who are ahead of our villainess in the line of succession.
Our heroes are Seeker Cassandra of the Dragon Slayers, her superior officer Byron and Galyan who’s a Circle Mage. Byron arranged with Galyan to get the elf girl to safety with the other Circle Mages in secret, suspecting that the unusual move by the head of the Templar and that the others agreed to it meant that someone was plotting to give the girl back to the Blood Mages. So, he steals her in the middle of the night. Cassandra notices that he’s up to something, follows him, and discovers his plan. Because she likes and respects him, she trusts his judgment and goes along with him. When they reach the rendezvous point the Blood Mages attack! Byron is killed off, the girl is taken back by the Blood Mages, and Cassandra is left mourning the loss of her mentor.
Then she spots another figure in the forest, and thinking it is another Blood Mage, she chases it down and starts trying to kill it. It turns out to be Galyan, the contact from the Circle of Mages who was going to take the girl back to the Circle. And her love interest. More on that contrived subplot later. The Templar arrive to arrest them. Galyan convinces her to run off and rescue the little girl, and they completely and utterly fail and get captured and blamed for the murder of the High Seeker. They will be executed during the 10th year celebration, when everything is planned to go down. The Circle of Mages arrives to rescue the two, who go on to fight the Bad Guys, who use the mind-controlled little girl who’s mind controlling dragons to attack the Chantry. Then there is an epic battle wherein Cassandra kills a lot of dragons. Towards the end of it, the little girl regains her senses and does the only action that she does of her own will of the entire movie, and turns the dragons against the Blood Mages. The head Blood Mage turns himself into a gigantic monster, and it takes a dragon and Cassandra to kill him off. Cue triumphant music, the good guys have won. She kills the evil Templar guy too after he begs for mercy then tries to kill her, and she gloriously chops off his head, to the cheers of the audience. Then she gets adulation à la A New Hope and a promotion.
All in all it’s just an average action/adventure fantasy movie. Nothing really special about it. It feels like a Dragon Age fanfic.
There are a lot of villains in this movie, and they all had intros. The only good intro was the mastermind of the whole thing. The others were bashing us over the head with “Hello, I’m the villain!” bats. We quite like obvious villains who love being villainous, but these were just so clichéd and completely uninteresting. We could predict what their lines would be before they said them, it was that bad.
The first baddie we meet is the head evil Blood Mage, Frenic, who has absolutely no complexity or intelligence. He gets his hands on a little elf girl with the power to control animals – the key element on which his entire attack strategy is based – and he beats her and abuses her. It’s so stupid on every level.
- If he damages the little girl and makes her less able to use her power, then she won’t be as useful.
- She was being put under mind control. There’s no need to intimidate her or threaten her if she’s going to be mind controlled anyways.
- If they had treated her nicely and manipulated her into helping them, they wouldn’t have needed the mind control.
- If she dies, which one of the other Blood Mages warns Frenic is dangerously close to happening, then their entire game is up and their strategy is ruined. Whoops.
It was a blatantly obvious ploy to try to make us hate this character more, when we’d already figured out that he’s the badguy. The intro told us that Blood Mages are bad, and here’s the head Blood Mage. We’re not that dense. Showing is better than telling, but manipulating a little girl would have made him much more evil and frightening than him being an abusive whiney brat.
Frenic’s characterization is very skimpy and almost non-existent. He did plenty of ranting, but we never know why he hates the Chantry. The writers were in a rush to establish the motivations of all the other badguys, why not him too? He was willing to turn himself into the Hulk by stabbing himself in the chest with his own staff. What was he fighting for? Why didn’t he run away, seeing that the battle was pretty much lost? That’s what he did every time before that, what made this different?
There also appears to have been some plot that was cut out, a connection between the head Blood Mage Frenic and Galyan the Circle Mage. He says, “We’re the same!” then Galyan says, “We’re nothing alike!” and the Circle Mages corner Frenic which makes him hulk out… anyways, never, nowhere else in the movie is any hint of connection between Galyan and Frenic. So, that line is really confusing and out of place.
The way the bad Templar was introduced was really silly, and it felt like two completely separate scenes had been fused. One scene is where the Seekers and Cassandra are congratulated publically for their success in saving the girl. The other is a private meeting behind closed doors where they discuss what should be done. I think one reason that they fused the scenes is that they wanted Cassandra to be able to hear the crucial plot point – that the head of the templar wants the Elf girl with the Templar. What they could have done to fix this is promote Cassandra for her bravery to a high enough rank to attend one of these behind-closed doors meetings, so she could see the suspicious behavior and react to it. Then the scene in the armory where Byron gives her advice could have had a point – he could have been helping her understand the politics, which is something that she’s very inexperienced with. But the way it was done, you had formal proceedings that were disrupted by the head of the Templar who just barged in being all smug and completely not matching the tone of the proceedings at all. It was quite jarring.
The Head Templar baddie was quite dumb too. His role is manipulation and stealth. He wasn’t good at either. Many times he would show his hand and act evil and monologue about his evil deeds in front of his men who he was supposed to be deceiving. Several times we were struck by the thought, “what? They didn’t hear that? Are they in on it too?” but at the end it looked like they weren’t, and just following orders. Also, his monologue at the end was pointless. To save the day, Cassandra didn’t need to know about the rest of the conspiracy. She just needed to fight free at her execution with the help of the Circle of Mages. She didn’t need to know that killing The Divine was the whole point of the exercise to be able to save her.
Making him so outwardly evil was a poor choice as far as characterization too. He was going to all of these extreme lengths to raise the position of the woman he loved who he believed would usher in a new, better era for the Chantry and the country. He may have been delusional, but making him oozingly evil was a great disservice to the character.
The best baddie was by far the Chanter who set everything up, but she has some vital pieces missing. Why she wanted this power, or what her “new era” would entail is never discussed, but it should have been. What would make her willing to kill to get this position? What was so important that she couldn’t wait for the old lady to die?
The Feminist Angle
We love seeing strong female characters, and this movie had a fantastic female main character. That she was female was treated like something incidental and it didn’t change the way the other characters interacted with her. She was a badass and well respected for it. She was treated by her fellow Seekers differently because she was so good at what she did, and that she came from the Dragon-hunters Clan.
Except for the hackneyed love interest. In fact, the way the romance was set up made it seem like it was undermining her. The “romance” was set up by putting the two in various suggestive poses that were supposed to happen by accident. They also came with the cheesiest lines – “So you like to be on top?” he says as they rolled around on the forest floor, tangled in chains. Yeah, didn’t see that coming from 10 miles away. The thing that really bothered us here is that it was so unnecessary and fast. Falling in love after knowing each other for 3 days – sorry, not buying it. A friendship and after a few months falling in love? Sure. But 3 days? She just barely has gotten over the hatred of all mages, and she’s falling in love with one she’s known for a few frantic days?
And her costume. The first thing that we have jotted down is, “Where are her pants?” It’s weird because when you’re first introduced to her she’s wearing full body armor like her fellow Seekers, and she looked amazingly cool. Then later, when she’s in her room, in her light, practice armor, she isn’t wearing any pants. Her superior officer comes in, dressed in the same light armor, and he does have pants. WTF? At least she didn’t have on an iron bra or anything ridiculous like that. Her armor was very functional – just missing pants.
The Injury. So after being amazing and killing half a dozen golems and a few ogres, she gets this weird wound on her inner thigh. We say weird because it never really bleeds. Its right where a huge artery runs through too, so she should have bled out in minutes. Also, it was in a place that doesn’t have much muscle, so it shouldn’t have affected her ability to walk, but she was limping as though someone had just taken out her knee or calf or ankle. We know why the injury was put there. It was so the healing scene where her love interest has to touch her inner thigh to heal her. It was just an excuse to build romantic tension, but it didn’t end up feeling romantic, just creepy and uncomfortable and like bad writing. Forcing her to rely on his healing abilities to patch herself up and get ready to fight off more badguys was a good idea though. There needed to be something to break her distrust of mages is quite important to the overall theme and plot of the story. So, instead of her inner thigh, how about her knee, calf, or ankle?
It was kinda obvious that there hadn’t been much in the way of directing of the voice actors. They were supposed to be so-totally-not-French accents, but the voice actors’ accents were all over the place. Many of the actors ended up blending accents or going back and forth between three or four different accents. Some actors gave up and just went British or their American accent. Other than that it was pretty good.
Definitely a low-budget production. The motioncapture looked great, but there were a few times that they didn’t use it which ended up looking really bad – especially with the horses. They cut a lot of corners, including almost never animating facial expressions. In fact, Cassandra’s face was left in a blank, emotionless state for most of the movie, which jarred with the voice acting often. The design of the scenes went for wow-they-were-in-a-hurry to Oh COOL!!!!, and there’s a lot more cheap shots than nice looking ones.
The animation of the magic was sometimes awesome, and sometimes lazy. The fire spell was really, really cool. The fight scenes – not so much. It basically consisted of throwing balls of light around like water balloons. We’d thought that the magic they’d use for fighting would involve making the environment fight for you, since the Templar can shrug off magical attacks with ease. Things like making the ground turn into quicksand to impede their movement or making lightening strike them or pieces of buildings fall on them. That would have been so cool! But, we get magic glowing water balloons instead.
The cheapness doesn’t bother us near so much. Cheap movies can be awesome if the rest of the movie is well done, and this wasn’t. It really feels like a lazy, last-minute slapped together project built to cash in on Dragon Age – but it could have been a lot cheaper and a lot more offensive as an addition to the canon. This was mediocre, but at least it had a great main character and an a few admittedly awesome fight scenes.