Thursday, January 27, 2022

The Legend of Vox Machina, on Amazon Prime

Amazon is truly leaning into fantasy as a genre. They already made a splash investing in bestselling franchises like the recently launched The Wheel of Time and the much-anticipated The Lord of the Rings. Rather shrewdly, they have also managed to sort of license Dungeons & Dragons without licensing Dungeon & Dragons, by adapting one of the campaigns played by the Critical Role podcasting ensemble as an animated fantasy series. Matthew Mercer’s The Legend of Vox Machina, offers plenty of fantasy elements along with a whole lot of cussing when it premieres tomorrow on Amazon Prime.

“Vox Machina” are a band of screw-up mercenaries who have stayed together this long mostly out of habit. Somehow, all their bickering helps get them into a fighting rhythm. Grog Strongjaw is exactly the meathead barbarian he sounds like. Vex and Vax are half-elf brother-and-sister, who specialize in stealth. Pike Trickfoot is a healer gnome. Keyleth is a druid, who is out to prove her worth according to druidic traditions, while steely flintlock gunslinger Percy Fredrickstein is out for vengeance (although his teammates do not know that yet). Rounding out the group is Scanlon Shorthalt, a gnome bard, who will remind casual fantasy fans of Tyrion Lannister from
Game of Thrones, except he is considerably more randy, to the point of being annoying.

In the first two episodes, the Voxxers decide doing good might actually pay better so they set off to hunt the archetypal monster terrorizing the Exandrian countryside (it’s a DNR that turns out to be an epic fantasy staple). The early misadventures are pretty derivative of countless other fantasy novels and films, but things get considerably more interesting with the third episode, which finds the VM heroes appointed guardians of the realm. They stumble across a much more insidious threat to Exandria from an evil (and perhaps undead) villain, who also has bad blood with one of Voxxers—really bad.

The role-playing podcasters all reprise their characters for the animated show, with Dungeon Master Mercer providing the voices of several non-player characters. For those with no investment in the series, either Fredrickstein or Vex and Vax might be the most interesting characters (due to their relative complexity). The others either feel underdeveloped, like whiny Keyleth or incredibly broad, such as Strongjaw and Shorthalt. Maybe it helps to know the latter from the podcast, because his horndog shtick is relentless (judging from the first six episodes provided for review).

Regardless, the style of animation is about right for a show like this. While it does not look as good as
The Spine of the Night, it is several cuts above the old Dungeons and Dragon Saturday morning cartoon, yet close enough in tone to hold some nostalgic appeal.

Despite a slow start, the storyline evolves to the point where many viewers will start to care. For many of us, it is just entertaining to see so many genre fantasy tropes unleashed on the screen. Still, it has admitted been years since we rolled a 20-sided die, but it seems like a bad idea to venture into battle without a wizard. Regardless, the series has presumably yet to capture the chemistry of the podcast (so we assume, based on the latter’s popularity), but it animates a great deal of
D&D swords and sorcery, which certainly passes the time. Diverting but not [yet] addictive, The Legend of Vox Machina starts tomorrow (1/28) on Amazon Prime.