Netflix Now: Dragonheart: Vengeance (2020) Reviewed

Netflix is home to all sorts of hidden gems and treasures. While scrolling through the new releases section, I found not only was Dragonheart (the 1996 fantasy starring Dennis Quaid and Sean Connery) alive and well, but that it had been turned into a franchise to the tune of five films. The latest in the franchise, Dragonheart: Vengeance, is a prequel and a sequel, parts of it taking place before the fourth film (itself a prequel) and ending after it. It all sounds very confusing if you aren't up on the Dragonheart lore and mythos, of which I'm very much not, but to my pleasant surprise Vengeance isn't just easy to follow, it's quite a bit of fun as well.

After a quick bit of narration that tells of a dragon (Siveth, voiced by Helena Bonham Carter) that came to the land as a hero, only to be banished as a traitor, we pick up with a young farmer, Lukas (Jack Kane). While working on his land one day, his home is ravaged by a roving band of raiders. While he's able to hide, Lukas's family isn't so lucky. After witnessing his family killed and his land destroyed, Lukas sets off into the heart of the kingdom to ask King Rasvan (Arturo Muselli) for justice. Ignored, Lukas opts for revenge himself, eventually joining forces with a fun loving mercenary, Darius (Joseph Millson) and Siveth, the dragon. Along the way they'll unravel a conspiracy that might go all the way to the top of the kingdom and maybe even find family that each of them is sorely lacking.

While not original in and of itself, what makes this successful is that it works so well as it's own story. There are moments in the film where it clearly references past entries but if you're a newcomer like myself, you'll be able to follow along with ease. The plot is light, fun and ultimately satisfying. Helping it along is a craftsmanship that one wouldn't normally associate with direct-to-streaming or DVD. Especially not the fifth entry of a series that regularly drops straight to video. 

Right off the bat, the production design and costuming immerse you right into this world. There's a rich texture to everything that lends the film a lived-in quality and sets you off on the right foot. I find that film often needs two things to steady the viewer, a believable world and a commitment to tone. What this lacks in budget, it makes up by successfully doing both of these things. The budget is stretched but never in ways that distract. Yes, Siveth herself doesn't look great but we know dragons aren't real so it's relatively easy to go with it. Bonham Carter's voice work does a lot of the heavy lifting, adding a necessary gravitas to the regal, towering creature. The sets and costumes, however, are a delightful feat of using your budget creatively. The center of the kingdom is peppered with little nooks and crannies, hole-in-the-wall bars and alleys. Every inch of this world is full of life and it's something that pushes a film with a well worn story into something a bit better.

In the same way the art direction entrenches you, the cast and director Alan Silvestrini hold up their end of the bargain well. Violent but never gory, serious but never a slog, this is about as solid of a fantasy movie you can get. Silvestrini's deft hand keeps the film going at a good clip, never stopping too long to disengage the viewer. He recognizes that fantasy sings when you have heart, humor and heroics. Dragonheart: Vengeance has all three. 

Our cast is littered with people just putting in the solid work required to fill out those nooks and crannies that populate the world. Not a single person looks or feels out of place. Of the primary cast, Joseph Millson's Darius is a highlight. He's the swashbuckling, out for himself rogue that we know is going to do the right thing in the end but his early drunken bumbling hero with a heart of gold is a joy to watch. Our hero, Lukas, is the typical nobody who becomes somebody but again, Jack Kane plays it very well, a good dose of aw shucks heroism into a character who is a little blank on the surface. 

Dragonheart: Vengeance isn't going to set your world on fire, pun intended. It's a familiar, fairly light fantasy that never seeks to do anything more than be exactly what it is. But what it is is a very fun, often thrilling jaunt with character types we immediately recognize and a world that clearly has a life beyond them. Fantasy epics on film seemed to peak in the early 2000s with the Lord of the Rings trilogy and we seem to get less and less of them on the big screen. If you're craving that sort of film, albeit on a lot less heavy on lore than LotR, you could do a lot worse than this. It's a perfect kids movie that made me want to check out the previous entries so as a sequel/prequel it succeeds as well as succeeding as a stand-alone journey.

-Brandon Streussnig