Multiple generations of kids have grown up gathering around the table and creating their own adventure—many of them going on to become their own storytellers and even filmmakers. Take the D&D directors Goldstein and Daley, for instance. Each grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons as a child—although much to Goldstein’s chagrin, his older brother would always go out of his way to kill him off in the first 30 minutes of the campaign. Nevertheless, it was a cornerstone of their sensibilities as storytellers, including when they wrote the screenplay for Spider-Man: Homecoming (2016) and directed Game Night (2018).
Yes, they have a deep affection for D&D and want to bring back some of the mischievousness of sitting around a table at 3am with your friends. When we also note they grew up during a time when high fantasy looked more like The Princess Bride than Lord of the Rings, Daley agrees.
“I think finding levity in these situations is the best,” the director says, “especially when the stakes are so high. Giving the audience permission to laugh and catch their breath is something that’s really important to us without undermining the stakes or taking the piss out of the genre, because that was very important to us as well.”
We saw those dueling yet complementary extincts at play in the clips that were screened exclusively for the Comic-Con faithful in San Diego Thursday afternoon. In the first Hall H clip, the film’s central heroes are led by a dashing Pine as the campaign’s leader. This collection of rogues has just arrived to a spooky cemetery where the dead from a nondescript battle were left to rot for centuries. The atmosphere is drenched in dread when the wizard-like member of the group (Justice Smith) tells the others that the dead hold the secrets they need—but each corpse they unbury and raise from his eternal rest with a spell will answer only five questions.
“Why five?” asks Lillis’ elvin character, cutting the tension to ribbons. “Seems arbitrary.” Indeed, the perfunctory nature of necromancy proves to be a wellspring for humor. Each dead body they exhume rattles off answers about the battle in which they died—many of them put to the sword after the sight of a dragon breathing hellfire from above (as hinted in the trailer). Still, the first one barely answers any meaningful questions as Pine, Rodriguez, and Smith squabble among themselves, confusing the poor corpse like it’s an Abbott and Costello routine and no one knows who’s on first.
The second undead zombie? He died five seconds into the battle. So, as a courtesy, they put him back to rest by asking obligatory icebreakers such as do you like cats? “Not really.” What’s two plus two? “I was never good at math.” And so it goes.
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