In the Name of the King: Two Worlds (2011) *Ĺ
The keen-sensed and quick-witted will ask a question about In the Name of the King: Two Worlds the moment they hear or read the title: why is it called that? Or more specifically, why isnít it called Two Worlds: A Dungeon Siege Tale? Remember, to the extent that In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale had a selling point at all, it was sold on the basis of its link to the video game series, Dungeon Siege. The In the Name of the King part was just some clunky bullshit that producer/director Uwe Boll dreamed up on the theory that all the cool kids were putting colons in the titles of their epic fantasy films. What the hell sense does it make to drop from the title of the sequel the phrase that identifies the movie as a game tie-in, especially given the centrality of video game adaptations to Bollís brilliantly cynical business strategy? Basically, what it comes down to is that In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale bombed like the Irish Republican Army, and neither Gas Powered Games nor Microsoft (which developed and published the Dungeon Siege games respectively) wanted anything more to do with Boll after that. If, for some unfathomable reason, Boll was determined to make a sequel to a movie that lost something like $50 million, he would have to do it without the Dungeon Siege name attached.
Naturally there was never any prospect of In the Name of the King 2 receiving anything like the backing its predecessor enjoyed. Among other contractions and downgrades, the sequel would have to settle for just one cast-member with a recognizable nameó and the only reason Dolph Lundgren agreed to do it was because he was getting divorced at the time, and needed an emergency cash infusion. Now if you think about the subtitle Two Worlds in the context of that necessary narrowing of horizons, an ominous precedent or two might come to mind. Like Beastmaster II: Through the Portal of Time, for example, or better yet, Lundgrenís previous Masters of the Universe. It is, after all, a tried and true tactic of underfunded fantasy movies to dodge the expense of world-building by setting most of the action in the here-and-now. I will therefore give Boll at least this much credit: when he says ďTwo Worlds,Ē he means it in the sense of sending a modern man into the fantasy realm, rather than uprooting a fantasy hero, and dropping him into ours. If youíd like, you can think of In the Name of the King: Two Worlds as A Vancouver Scandy in King Konreidís Court.
Actually, it isnít quite King Konreid, as that would have required hiring Burt Reynolds back, and no way in hell was that going to happen. So instead, weíll have King Raven (Lochlyn Munroe, from Freddy vs. Jason and Trancers 4: Jack of Swords), apparently a descendant of Konreidís via Farmer. And as for the Scandy, that would be Granger (Lundgren), a retired Canadian special forces operative who now supports himself as a martial arts instructor. Their meeting is the work of the witch Elianna (Natalia Guslistaya, of The Fear Chamber and Bloodrayne: The Third Reich), who uses her magic to travel from Ehb (which nobody ever actually calls that this time around, thanks to the whole ďwe lost the Dungeon Siege licenseĒ thing) in search of a prophesied hero. Itís hard to say yet why sheís looking for him in 21st-century Vancouver, out of all the possible times and places in the Multiverse; maybe hers is an atypically specific prophecy. In any case, Elianna is pursued into our world by creatures who arenít exactly Krugs (because, again, no more Dungeon Siege license), and theyíre still on her tail when she reaches Grangerís house. In fact, Granger meets the hench-things before he meets the witch, as they burst in on him while heís trying to get drunk in memory of comrades who were killed in some unexplained wartime incident years ago. Granger makes short work of the intruders, but his understandable desire to get some straight answers out of Elianna is destined to go unfulfilled. She merely mumbles something about Granger being the Chosen One, then drags him through the dimensional vortex that suddenly pops into being in his living roomó and is promptly slain by more I Canít Believe Theyíre Not Krugs when she and the old soldier emerge on the other side.
This time, Granger has a little help killing the monster-men, but in Ehb, you canít assume somebody is friendly just because they saved your ass. The leader of Grangerís rescuers, a man at arms called Allard (Aleks Paunovic, from Maneater and Blood: A Butcherís Tale), immediately orders him seized and bound, then takes him to see King Raven. The reception gets a little warmer after that, but never warm enough to put Granger off his guard. Allard, for example, remains thoroughly hostile, as if jealous, perhaps, that he was not Chosen himself. Ravenís hospitality includes a hovel for Granger to sleep in within the somewhat ramshackle walls of the royal castle, a doctor to tend to his injuriesó Dr. Manhatten, no less (Natassia Malthe, from Slave and Lake Placid, whom the makeup department has thankfully not outfitted with a glowing, blue pecker)ó and a sexy blonde (Michaela Mann, of White Noise 2: The Light and the made-for-TV Carrie) to tend to whatever other needs the time-displaced warrior might have. What it does not initially include is an explanatin of where Granger is or what heís supposed to be doing there. That comes only after Grangerís serving wench reveals herself as an assassin sent by Ravenís enemies, which imparts to the king a somewhat heightened sense of urgency. Obviously a little sit-down, followed by a visit to the Seer (Elizabeth Rosen, from House of the Dead and Bless the Child), is in order.
Right. So it turns out that Farmer (although nobody ever mentions him by name) was killed after a long and illustrious reign when the Dark Ones rose up from who-knows-where, spreading war, pestilence, and cannibalism across the land. Raven rallied enough fighting men behind him to prevent the collapse from becoming total, but the Dark Ones and their Holy Mother (Christina Jastrzembska, of Final Destination 2 and Twilight Saga: New Moon) still have the upper hand in the ongoing struggle. Thatís why Elianna was sent out to find the Chosen One, to get destiny on the beleaguered kingdomís side at last. As Chosen One, Granger will have two jobs. First, obviously, heís supposed to kill the Holy Mother, but heís also supposed to find something called the Catalyst, which sounds like it may have something to do with that plague the Dark Ones spread. Who really knows, though? Like most of her kind, this Seer is less informative than one would ideally like. In any case, Granger is to set out at first light, accompanied by Allard, Dr. Manhatten, and fifteen soldiers. They will penetrate the lands controlled by the Dark Ones, and the Chosen One will do what he was Chosen for.
Well, maybe. In fact, there are plenty of hints that Granger hasnít been told the whole story, if only one looks closely enough. Like the first raiding party of Dark Ones that Granger and his companions encounter in the forest, for starters. They donít seem to be fighting very hard, and their numbers are weirdly insufficient to cope with even Grangerís small force. Itís as if the Dark Ones are offering just enough resistance to nudge their opponents either toward or away from something. Meanwhile, back at the castle, Raven is acting double extra-shady, murdering the Seer and playing around with all sorts of suspicious-looking chemicals. Then thereís Thane (Michael Adamthwaite, from Black Christmas and Behemoth). Heís the Dark Onesí field commander, but unlike his masked and blackened-skinned troops, heís unmistakably human. He also seems to be pursuing an agenda of his own, separate from and not necessarily compatible with that of the Holy Mother. Finally, once weíre all good and confused about everything, Granger gets separated from the others during a Dark One attack that seems to mean business, forcing him to make his incursion into the Holy Motherís camp alone. Heís prevented by Thane from fulfilling his mission, and brought instead into the Holy Motherís presence for an audience with the prophet.
Thus begins Expositionpalooza II, in which we learn that Raven and the Seer left out some rather important stuff from the original Expositionpalooza. For instance, did you know that the Dark Ones were once as human as Granger himselfó or for that matter, the Holy Mother? Thatís why no one knows where they came from; they never existed until the plague they all carry emerged. And that plague? Developed by King Raven. Raven was no kinsman of Farmerís, but rather an alchemist who wanted the throne as badly as Gallian once did. The disease was intended to take out only the royal family, but it escaped from whatever system Raven was using to keep it contained, and unleashed total chaos throughout the realm. The fact that the plague rendered its victims seemingly subhuman whenever it failed to kill them was crucial to Ravenís efforts to regain control, because it gave him a cover story to feed the masses. There was, however, a single member of the old kingís household who survivedó Farmerís son and heir. The Holy Mother herself rescued the infant, hiding him where Raven would never think to look. Thatís right. She concealed the crown prince by sending him centuries into the future, and thatís why Granger is the Chosen One. (Wait a minuteÖ Farmer. Granger. Oh, for fuckís sakeÖ) You might ask, then, why heís prophesied to kill the Holy Mother, but you know how tricky time travel can be. There were actually three separate missions from Ehb converging on Vancouver that day. Elianna, as we know, had been sent by Raven, who wanted to ensure the Holy Motherís death. The Holy Mother, meanwhile, was also there in Vancouver, trying to bring Granger back so that he could find the Catalyst, which will bring about Ravenís fall. And those Dark Ones were in the future on Thaneís orders to kill Granger; Thane didnít like the ambiguity of a prophecy foretelling the deaths of both leaders, and hoped to circumvent the whole business and topple Raven the old-fashioned way. Granger mistook the Holy Mother for a Dark One during the fighting in his house, and shot her. Therefore, in a way, heís already fulfilled that half of the prophecy. As for the Catalyst, it lies hidden somewhere in the Black Forest, and nobody really knows what it is. The Holy Motherís daughter, Dunyana (Heather Doerksen, from The Cabin in the Woods and Pacific Rim), can take Granger to the edge of the woods, but heís on his own after that. Dunyanaís generalship is too vital to the war effort to risk losing her on a side-quest, but she and her army will march against Ravenís castle to await the Chosen Oneís presumably inevitable success. Granger, for his part, is rather less sanguine about his chances as he searches for an undefined whatsit in a dragon-infested wood.
Maturation is a dangerous thing for filmmakers whose main claim to fame is their defiant incompetence. It doesnít often happen that such people become good at their art, and becoming just barely good enough for their works to pass muster as normal movies deprives them of the one thing that made them potentially interesting. The most damning thing to be said about In the Name of the King: Two Worlds is that it attains no more than that ho-hum level of pedestrian badness. Thatís especially disappointing in a sequel to In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, which beneath its glossy and professional exterior was awful in tremendous depth and breadth. Gone are the delusionally miscast leads and the accomplished character actors who seem justly pissed off to be there. Instead, we have a slumming has-been more or less in his natural element, supported by an assemblage of direct-to-video nobodies fully appropriate to the filmís nonexistent ambitions. Gone are the weirdly overachieving production values suggestive not merely of lipstick on a pig, but of the full glamour-pinup hair-and-makeup treatment on a syphilitic warthog. In their place is the time-honored and completely rational technique of spending the money where it will do the most good, and cutting all practicable corners on everything else. Specifically, Two Worlds has a shockingly impressive CGI dragonó not Jurassic Park impressive, mind you, but equal or superior to what youíll see in most episodes of ďWalking with Dinosaurs.Ē Everything else is junky-looking, but only Ravenís pitiful Renaissance Faire castle is quite junky enough to enjoy. And perhaps saddest of all, gone is the willingness to indulge in the occasional flight of downright lunacy, like the ninjas for no reason or the Cirque du Soleil wood elves. Or perhaps itís not willingness thatís missing so much as ability. Lunacy, after all, requires imagination, and imagination is in very short supply here. In the Name of the King: Two Worlds is convoluted and confusing without being crazy enough to make you care about trying to sort it all out. Itís full of dialogue that thuds clumsily against the ear without producing any truly memorable dissonances. Itís drably ugly rather than garishly so, afflicted by those twin pestilences of the modern B-movie, too-sharp digital cinematography and That Damn Blue Filter. All in all, itís the cinematic equivalent of the high school jock who studies exactly hard enough to maintain the 1.6 grade-point average he needs in order to keep his place on the football team.