Rise of the Shadow Warrior (2013)

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(Also called Dragon Lore: Curse of the Shadow and Saga: the Shadow Cabal.)

“When death called, three renegades answered.”

Director John Lyde

Starring Richard McWilliams, Danielle Chuchran, Paul D. Hunt

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: there’s the Shadow, right, which is bad, and the Order, which is good, and there’s a prophesied Shadow sort of evil messiah character who’s going to turn up and lead a legion of the undead to, y’know, cover all the lands in a second darkness. When a tough-as-nails elf bounty hunter (Chuchran) gets infected with a Shadow curse, she has to join forces with a doubting paladin (McWilliams) and a gruff but honourable orc warrior (Hunt) to prevent the evil Goth Azul (Spanish for “blue goth”) from rising again.

What’s wrong with it?

OK, guys, I’ve got a pitch for you. I want to make a fantasy movie, right, and it’s going to be exactly like every other goddamn fantasy movie ever except that I don’t have the same level of budget, experience or technical ability as other filmmakers so it’s going to be kind of half-assed and slightly inferior. That’s going to be a huge hit, right?

Rise of the Saga of the Shadow Curse Cabal Warrior doesn’t really bring very much new to the table. Its orcs look like they’re wearing official Peter Jackson orc costumes, its characters are Ranger, Paladin and Barbarian, everyone starts out distrusting each other but eventually learns to get along, Dwarfs wear goggles and have bombs and generally look like they’re from WoW.

Its pacing and narrative are also a little clumsy. A lot of individual scenes are quite well done, but their role in the overall structure isn’t really clear. At one point, for instance, we see our heroes climbing some mountains on their way to confront the baddies. The camera pauses for a moment to do a big twirl around Nemyt, the elf. It’s a nice shot: the mountains are pretty and Nemyt is pretty. But I’m not sure why it happened then or what it had to do with what came before or after it.

I guess that’s not too uncommon with twirly landscape shots, though. Let me give you a better example: at one point, gruff orc warrior Kullimon leaves the party for a bit. He runs for a while across some landscapes, a la Conan the Barbarian. Then he gets in a boat and paddles it, using a tree branch for some reason. He is confronted by some mermaids. They drag him into the water, he stabs them and they swim away. Eventually he rejoins the party. So this whole scene happened because … ? I guess it was important because the filmmakers wanted to have scenes with just Keltus (the pally) and Nemyt, but the Kullimon scenes serve absolutely no purpose. Also, the mermaids have nasty pointy teeth, like every other fucking mermaid in the last ten years.

Also, there is a gang of slow motion in this movie, often in scenes where its meaning is not readily apparent.

Fight choreography in films is something you can’t just approximate. In fact, a lot of the swordfights and punchups in this film are not bad; Nemyt in particular leaps around athletically and puts a lot of effort into it. The problem is the larger battle scenes, where the choreography breaks down, leaving a lot of the lesser combatants standing around visibly in the background waiting for their turn to charge in and get mown down.

What’s right with it?

It’s pretty brisk. As soon as the opening narration and swoopy map shot are done, we’re right in to Nemyt shooting down a dragon with a giant ballista, then having a swordfight with an orc, then Keltus hunting down some weird old Dwarf and getting into another poorly-choreographed fight. Unlike a lot of bad movies, this one at least starts off with stuff happening. It saves all its tedious walk-and-talk for later.

It has some varied locations. I don’t know where this was shot — somewhere in the American west, by the looks of it — but there’s a lot of scenery and it isn’t all the same. If the scene in the mine shaft is a clever use of a found location, then good for the filmmakers. Although the movie tries to make its world look more alien with lots of fantasy-type filters on the sky, which is really distracting.

Nemyt may be an attractive girl in tight leather armour, but she’s not as terribly over-sexualised as many of her equivalents elsewhere. That is to say, she’s clearly intended to be sexy in a tough-bad-girl sort of way, but the camera doesn’t particularly leer at her, and it’s only the male characters who get their kit off. She does get captured and threatened with rape (or maybe cannibalism), but it’s not too salacious and it’s over quickly. That’s not a very high standard, but sadly even that level of common decency isn’t universal.

The costumes are really pretty good, except for Keltus’s which is a bit blah. The Orc helmets are nice, and there’s a lot of little attention to detail. The design aesthetic is a little … derivative, shall we say? It’s basically a mashup of D&D, WoW and the Lord of the Rings films. But it shows care and enthusiasm.

How bad is it really?

There’s clearly a lot of enthusiasm in this film, just not married to an equivalent level of resources, technical skill or experience. It’s like a bar-band cover of a popular song from the last 20 years. Not bad per se, but why seek it out?

Best bit (if such there is)?

Keltus and Kullimon are waiting for Nemyt to go make a fake exchange of some gold for a relic with evil orcs. Kullimon starts singing a little orcish song about snapping spines and how his enemies shit themselves. There is a pause, then he says “the Common Tongue does not do it justice.” It’s not the best joke ever, but it’s one of few in a movie that takes itself really seriously.

What’s up with…? 

  • Keltus addressing the random prophesyin’ woman he meets in town as “old crone,” when she is clearly about his age?
  • The same woman later turning out to be a goddess who saves Keltus during his death/crisis of faith scene? He reveals that he’s switched goddesses later on like it’s supposed to be a big deal, but I think it would have more of an impact if we knew anything at all about either of them.
  • The Wandering Monster Table? Encounters with mermaids and some kind of sea serpent for no apparent reason.
  • The final fight scene, where our heroes are battling the baddies, the plan to resurrect Goth Azul hangs in the balance, and most of the evil cultists are just … swaying gently from side to side in the background?
  • The evil lich guy cursing the orc leader to make him immortal and thereby winning his loyalty? If he could do that all along, why was there even this convoluted plan to buy the relic with some gold hidden in a hollow log?
  • Kullimon exclaiming “ha ha ha!” all the time? That’s not what laughter sounds like.

Ratings

Production values Doing their best; strong in some areas (costumes, locations) and weak in others (soundtrack, CG) – 14
Dialogue and performances Uninspired. – 16
Plot and execution Someone’s beloved fantasy setting, with all the usual derivativeness. – 15
Randomness Occasional flashes to relieve the predictability. – 12
Waste of potential Frankly, it’s impressive it’s as good as it is. – 10

Overall 67%

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