TL;DR: A fine movie. If you are into action and don’t mind the extreme fantasy setting, you’ll like it.
The longer version:
First, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to see this movie, as I am boycotting Wizards. Not that I even play D&D anymore (although I do play RPGs). The reason: their current approach of trying to milk everything they can from the players nevermind the quality of their product. If you are just a D&D player, you might not have heard of the 1000 dollar products, you can’t even play with, they tried to sell to MtG players as a “celebration”. So, fuck Wizards of the Coast. They really need to find new management before the whole company comes crashing down.
It has been 23 years since the original D&D movie. You know, the one with completely inverted Rotten Tomatoes score to this one (the original got 10%, this new one has 90%). A lot has happened since then, but for the benefit of this movie, the major evolution has been that filmmakers are no longer embarrassed to work with this kind of material. But around the millenium, this just wasn’t a possibility. So many of the big budget genre movies of the day just always seemed to have this winking on the side, where the director wanted to make sure the audience knew he wasn’t taking this seriously. (Obviously, that was also quickly changing at the time with Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man trilogy and little later with Nolan’s Batman trilogy.)
This movie was taken seriously, but not in the way that it is serious. It doesn’t laugh at the material, it laughs with the material. It has an understanding of what makes those adventures enjoyable to the players.
I like the composition of the party and it is a party in a quite traditional sense. We have a bard as the leader, his long time friend and companion, a barbarian, their somewhat untalented wizard friend and their new recruit, a tiefling druid. There’s also a paladin, who is with them for a while, but then leaves. In some ways the dynamics of the group follows what I think of as the Boys formula (comics, not as much in the show), where we have the main characters played by the more famous names (like Butcher, MM and Hughie), but when they are in trouble, they rely on the other two (Frenchman and Female) to handle it. This way the party feels more balanced. The character arcs are pretty meh and not all of them even get one. I guess Michelle Rodriguez is too iconic to change (which actually just might be true and I do like her character and her non-chalant way of playing her).
Some of the plot is pretty forced, which is also reminiscent of D&D as well, but you don’t really mind as long as there is the fun adventure feel. This does make the movie feel somewhat too long. I mean, since when do these movies need to be 2 hours and 14 minutes? I guess they had to have a dungeon, a dragon, a puzzle, an evil sorcerer and so-forth and it all takes time. In the end, I am pretty happy with all of it, but it could have been slimmed down somewhat. Much of the plot is also very predictable, although there are some cool moments where they manage to do something interesting.
The special effects aren’t always quite as good as they should be by now, but they are passable and often used nicely to give the movie that unique fantasy feel it needs. It also manages to avoid the most clichéd uses of magic, although magic and magical beings are pretty much everywhere, so if you are more into low fantasy, this is not going to be your thing.
This was obviously meant to be a franchise starter, but I don’t really know how much they need to make to be able to continue. The budget was reportedly 150 million (+ marketing), so less than 40 million opening in the US is not a strong start. Weirdly, it was also called a Hasbro property in the opening credits, which felt weird to me, as Wizards of the Coast is so much stronger as a fantasy brand, but I guess they just felt it better to bring up Hasbro, which is bigger and better known in general. Not that most of the audience cares. It’s just that the part that does, would probably rather see Wizards. Or perhaps Wizard’s reputation is currently, after the MtG and D&D One debacles, so bad that they want to keep that in the downlow.
So yeah, the movie is good. It just isn’t as great as some of the action movies of recent past, but it is good enough to see. I do think that despite the big budget, it would work better with your D&D playing friends at home where you can freely talk about it. There isn’t going to be something crucial, you can’t afford to miss, so play D&D bingo or try to figure out the level of each character, or something with your playgroup.