Merlin: The Return (2000) — Hate a kid? Make ’em watch this.

“Stop him!”

Justin’s rating: So when does he turn Wart into a fish and sing a little song?

Justin’s review: My general feeling on movies with confusing beginnings is that you have about three minutes to start making sense before I’m going to start upending tables and delivering a banshee’s wail of despair. Merlin: The Return doesn’t start explaining itself for a good 15 minutes (in a 78-minute flick, no less) as the audience is thrown between three locations/time periods without any explanation. So I guess I’ll do the movie’s job and give you a helping hand in case you ever want to dip your brain pan into this toxic stew.

A confrontation at Stonehenge (sadly, without druids) results in a magic spell going awry and both King Arthur’s crew and Mordred’s forces being stashed away in the Dimension of Paper Mache Rocks. Weirdly enough, both the good guys (including Guinevere and Lancelot) and the bad guys are all stuffed in this dimension without fighting or killing each other. They just kind of make passive-aggressive remarks to each other and presumably hold intermural rugby matches.

Only Merlin (played by the titular Fred from Drop Dead Fred) is able to flit in and out of this dimension and 1500 years into the future (i.e., present day) where scientist Tia Carrere is attempting to open the dimension and let Mordred out. The movie doesn’t deign to explain why she even cares, because there’s no real shot that Mordred’s one-day villain acting workshop acting is going to conquer the world. And considering that his favorite word for her is “wench,” you’d think Tia would shut down that noise right away and go lobby for Wayne’s World 3.

When she fails to come through for him, Mordred sends ghost skeletons through a time crack (Time Crack 2: Half-Past Dead coming soon to a theater near you) to possess people and further his cause of being rather lame. He really does love growling every line like it’s first thing in the morning and he hasn’t had a glass of water to clear out the phlegm.

It’s a pretty weak threat, which requires a pretty weak group of protagonists. You’ve got Merlin, whose underwear makes more of an impression than his spells. Arthur looks like the night shift manager at a Denny’s. There are a couple of little kids (naturally), one of whom continually sports hilariously bad bucket hats. And there’s a group of Arthur’s knights who jog all over modern-day English countryside looking for things to stab with their swords.

Out of all of the famous myths in the public domain, King Arthur has been plundered for potential so often that it looks like a looted drugstore in San Francisco. So Merlin: The Return’s approach of “if you’re going to do something familiar, do it way worse than everyone else” wins no points from me. The acting is dull. The plot was probably inspired by the pacing of a DMV line. The special effects were probably done on the same iMacs that this film so prominently features. And nothing really makes sense for the blissfully brief runtime.

It’s a kids movie that not even a drooling kindergarten holdback who mainlines Dora the Explorer would find interesting. But you? Yeah, it’s probably right up your intellectual alley. Go knock yourself out.

Didja notice?

  • Giant hooded cloaks always make for a dramatic reveal
  • Those are amazingly cheap special effects
  • When a kid wears a giant sunflower on their hat, that’s all you can stare at
  • All evil fortresses should have water slides for quick escapes WHEEEEEEEEE
  • That granny is the worst driver ever
  • Wizards love to be interrupted mid-spell. Repeatedly.
  • Let’s all look at Merlin’s underwear for a while
  • Mordred’s mask is a little much
  • Those are not GameBoy sounds
  • All kids should voluntarily stuff themselves into the trunks of cars
  • Science labs in 2000 came equipped with fire hoses, gigantic vents, and a suite of iMacs
  • Water hoses can stop everyone from doing everything
  • You’re a really bad guy if you choke out your mom
  • Skeleton ghost!
  • Have a device that can cause “small earthquakes?” Sure, give it to a 10-year-old boy. There is NO WAY that will go bad.
  • Are Arthur and Lancelot hitting each other with hollow pipes?

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