Dungeons & Dragons Movie Writers Tease “Emasculating” Men

Does it count as “subverting expectations” when you do something everyone expects? In an interview with Variety, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein talked about their upcoming movie Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. The final question (which is more of an observation, as they seem to jump in before the interviewer can ask them anything) is about how the women in the movie are more involved in the action scenes than the men, and this is their response:

GOLDSTEIN: That was not an attempt at wokeness on our part.

DALEY: Swear to God, it wasn’t. We liked that Holga is the bruiser that does the dirty work for Edgin, and he doesn’t like to get his hands dirty. We also love emasculating leading men.

GOLDSTEIN: Not for woke reasons!

DALEY: Just because it’s funny and fun and fresh. It was the dynamic we had with Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman’s characters in “Game Night.”

GOLDSTEIN: Or Tom Holland versus Robert Downey Jr. in “Spider-Man.” We like our male heroes to be challenged and not simply heroic.

There are a couple of things that could be going on in the movie based on this answer. The use of the word “emasculating” is the big concern because it means something a lot more specific than simply letting women be at the center of action scenes. Many movies and shows have done that without emasculating the men (like my all-time favorite, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Even the examples they give, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Game Night, didn’t emasculate the male characters. They actually invoke the term “challenged” when describing the men, which is something I believe everyone agrees is a good thing. Spider-Man was challenged in Homecoming, but he was never emasculated. And I’ve only seen Game Night once (and liked it a lot), but I don’t recall Jason Bateman’s character feeling emasculated, either.

So, why use a term loaded with implications like “emasculating”? Maybe Daley misspoke; it happens to the best of us, and given their track record (their Vacation reboot/remake/sequel/who cares notwithstanding; I hate that movie with a passion), it’s reasonable to give them the benefit of the doubt. But that they immediately throw out that they aren’t making these decisions “for woke reasons” kind of sets one’s antennae on alert. They’re very insistent that they aren’t trying to make a woke movie, but then say they’re emasculating Chris Pine and the other male characters? It’s a bit too “doth protest too much” to be ignored. And Daley calling it “fresh” is a joke. This is the current year, where men are emasculated almost as a matter of course in movies, to clap back at their “toxic masculinity” or whatever. Fresh is a traditional movie that allows a man to be masculine without either showing him up or making him the villain – like Top Gun: Maverick, to use an all-too-rare example. (I think I read something about that movie being fairly successful too.)

Another possibility is that Daley and Goldstein know how sick and tired people are of woke crap, and they’re desperate to assure everyone that their movie isn’t like that. Their comments are a bit rambling, which suggests that’s possible, and maybe that’s why Daley said “emasculating,” simply searching for a word and picking a bad one. Or they could have let the truth slip out while trying to obfuscate it. It’s impossible to tell until the movie comes out, but their choice of word, whether appropriate or not, may have cost them part of their audience.

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