Merlin and the War of the Dragon Empire is the first film on Bargain Blockbusters from notorious studio The Asylum. Starring renowned German actor Jürgen Prochnow, MatWotDE follows the paths of two young, apprentice wizards: Merlin (Simon Lloyd-Roberts) and Vendiger (Joseph Stacey). Both are born of evil, yet they both choose to take different paths in harnessing their innate magical abilities. As Vendiger breaks away from the teachings of the wise Mage (Prochnow) in order to wreak havoc across the land, it is up to Merlin to restore peace and vanquish evil.
The glaring problem with the story, however, is that there is a real lacking of motive from Vendiger. Although the film does try and weave together the tumultuous period of post-Roman Britain into the narrative, Vendiger himself never makes it clear why he becomes involved in the battles between armies. There isn’t even a simple “I want to rule the world” speech, just a huge leap between slightly mischievous and killing innocent civilians.
The huge jump in plot is followed by dragons. Lots of dragons that feel pretty inconsequential. There isn’t enough weighty action to show the tyranny that they are supposed to represent. The CGI isn’t too bad given the standard of production, but there doesn’t feel like a real threat from the dragons. This leaves Vendiger to carry the real menace and consequently, despite his best efforts, it all falls flat.
What should be a classic tale of good vs evil becomes further null and void because the protagonist is so grim to see perform that you begin to wish that a dragon would devour him and end the whole thing prematurely. To be cast as the lead actor in a fantasy action film should require some kind of presence, instead Merlin looks like a reserve team, substitute goalkeeper for a non-league football team; there is no physicality to bypass his lack of charisma.
It is astonishing that Jürgen Prochnow agreed to appear in such a film. Even though he doesn’t appear to be giving the performance of a lifetime, he still manages to consistently be streets ahead of his colleagues in MatWotDE. Some credit goes to Joseph Stacey for his scenery chewing Vendiger, but for the most part the actors appear as if they are learning to read out loud for the first time and the random insertion of ‘ye olde’ English into the dialogue is as cringe worthy as it is unnecessary.
Some kind of comment should also be made about the fact that the only women in the film are nymph-like creatures whose only purpose seems to scheme and seduce, somewhat predictable but still disappointing.
If you’ve seen Asylum productions in the past then you can have a pretty good idea of what to expect here. The biggest problem is that there isn’t the gimmicky craziness of Sharknado or the like to propel it forward, instead it’s a middle of the road fantasy adventure with fairly limited production values, a flimsy plot and less than capable acting.
Director: Mark Atkins
Running Time: 90 minutes
Extras: Making of (ambitiously titled ‘Making the Magic’), film maker commentary and trailers.