Grade: C+/B-
Entire family: No
2020, 97 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some bloody images
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Code
Amazon link

Dragonheart: Vengeance is the third direct-to-video “prequel” to the cult-favorite 1996 fantasy adventure starring Dennis Quaid and the voice of Sean Connery, and the good news is that it doesn’t look like the typical slap-it-together direct-to-video release.

Aside from some noticeable green screen work in less than a handful of spots, the CGI effects and animation are strong enough to make you forget that this spawn of Dragonheart never saw the dim light of theaters. But apart from those strong production values, Dragonheart: Vengeance is a mixed bag.

On the plus side, the two main characters are instantly likeable. The more screen time they get, the more you like watching farm boy Lukas (Jack Kane) and mercenary swordsman Darius (Joseph Millson) as they set about to avenge the murder of the boy’s family and eventually take on the evil king. On the minus side, haven’t we already seen a family-less Luke hooking up with a profit-minded rogue adventurer who then take on the Emperor—albeit with a galactic rebel army? And haven’t we seen Darius’s “look” before in Aragorn?

Instead of Sean Connery’s voice, the dragon in this film is powered by Helena Bonham Carter (“You’re a girl dragon?”). Carter is always the consummate professional, and it’s a nice touch having the dragon breathe ice and not fire. But some of the lines that are written seem way too contemporary, and the script doesn’t allow for the same playful interaction as in the original film. Instead of a con game where the mercenary and dragon worked together to extort money from frightened villagers (and banter like buddy cops in the process), this dragon is a reluctant dragon—as much of a pacifist as those old-time Western heroes who need to have someone close to them threatened or die before they’ll take action.

Meanwhile, the acting is uneven. Some performances are quite convincing, and some feel just a little off in terms of their tone—either bordering on over-the-top or else dipping under the limbo bar of emotional range. And as far as the dragon Siveth goes, people are either going to love the variation on a theme or hate it. This dragon is a shape shifter! In some mythologies, there were stories of female dragons that turned themselves into humans in order to romance mortal men. But that’s not what happens here. Siveth can turn into animals and does so with seriocomic regularity.

Those moments would have been kid favorites, but age 10 or so is about as kid-friendly as this film gets. There’s no sex, no language, and no real adult situations—just violence, some of it extreme. When Darius lops off someone’s body part during a fight he jokes, “Sorry, I was aiming for the other one,” but the shock of the violence is there nonetheless. As we were watching, my wife quipped, “This movie is for kids who are too old for How to Train Your Dragon and too young for Game of Thrones,” and that pretty much sums it up. Plus, the location filming adds a real layer of fantasy-reality. It was shot in Romania at such locations as Rasnov Fortress, the volcanic crater at Racos, and the famous Bran Castle—better known as Dracula’s Castle. That alone makes this film fun to watch.

If you’re wondering how this new prequel stacks up against the others, It’s better than Dragonheart: A New Beginning (2000), about the same quality as Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse (2015), but perhaps not quite as good as Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire—in part because the main female character in Vengeance is token rather than an integral part of the plot, and in part because there’s no personal rivalry in this most recent film to match the sibling rivalry of Sorcerer’s Curse.

Is it entertaining? Despite its flaws, heck yes, and if your kids are in that netherworld age range between How to Train Your Dragon and Game of Thrones, then Dragonheart: Vengeance isn’t a bad choice for family movie night. If you liked any of the other Dragonheart films, you’ll like this one.

Language: Nothing of note

Sex: Nothing here either

Violence: Body parts get lopped off, people get stabbed, frozen, shot with arrows, and some of the violence gets bloody—yet it’s not what I’d call Tarantino violence, just enough to push it into the PG-13 range

Adult situations: There’s one scene where a person watches someone close to him killed, and that can be traumatic

Takeaway: Ultimately it’s the engaging stars and the production values that make this worthwhile, despite its being a direct-to-video release