The classic tabletop game is back on the big screen in Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, an action fantasy comedy with some real tricks up its sleeve.
They just don’t make ’em like this, anymore. Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves arrives at an odd time for modern escapist cinema, when fantasy has more or less been relegated to high-budget television. And big screen blockbusters are engineered for maximum, universe-is-on-the-line spectacle. Dungeons and Dragons is quite humble by contrast, but the true charm is in how this action heist comedy isn’t at all ashamed of its own cheeky existence.
This new adaptation of the tabletop game has nothing to do with the 2000 film or its subsequent TV-movie sequel and direct-to-video trilogy closer. That said, it has little to do with the game itself, quite honestly. It’s set in the Forgotten Realms campaign and certainly nods to its dice-rolling inspirations, but the film is by no means “only for the fans.” Newcomers to Dungeons and Dragons or even people just wanting to dive into a fantasy world that looks interesting will have plenty of room to stretch their legs and take this “new” world in.
Chris Pine stars as Edgin Darvis, or just Ed, a kind-hearted thief stuck in prison after a job gone wrong. With him is his best friend, the barbarian badass Holga Kilgore, played by Michelle Rodriguez. Ed wants to find the daughter he left behind, played by Chloe Coleman. She’s now under the watch of a former member of their crew, a roguish huckster played by Hugh Grant.
“We didn’t mean to unleash the greatest evil the world has ever known.”
Before long, Ed and Holga round up a party of allies to save his daughter from a Red Wizard’s plot to take over the city. Justice Smith plays Simon, a “so-so” sorcerer as Ed describes him, who worked with their gang in the past. Plus Sophia Lillis joins up as Doric, a druid who can change into animals and wants to save her enclave.
If that all sounds like way too much to keep up with, well there’s also Regé-Jean Page as Xenk. He’s a slow-aging paladin who handsomely dashes his way into the second act as a moral counterpoint to Ed’s more conflicted worldview. Yes, there’s plenty of lore and pablum to sift through early on in Dungeons and Dragons, but at least that’s true to the game as well. Once the film finds its footing past Pine’s early narration (delivered through an amusing prison trial), the set pieces set into motion quickly, complete with thrilling, swashbuckling goodness.
Directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Gilio) insert the same snappy dialogue and propulsive world-building they delivered in 2018’s Game Night. Plus at least a dash of their comedic action timing from Spider-Man: Homecoming. But it’s easy to assume that the story (which was formed with help from Chris McKay) lends its own energy and inspiration from D&D growing more and more popular over the years. Most recently thanks to Adventure Zone and Critical Role, the latter being even more directly connected to Amazon’s The Legend of Vox Machina, which is pretty much an R-rated animated version of this movie.
The bottom line.
The name of the game here is simplicity in execution. It’s a complicated plot and fantasy world in plenty of ways, but Goldstein and Daley manage to make it all feel familiar and fresh for what it is. Perhaps because they constantly tie all the mumbo jumbo back to stakes that are easy to grasp and take seriously. The film is also deliriously funny at times (a particular graveyard scene is a wonderful highlight). Though it rarely falls prey to the Marvel superhero formula of disrupting emotional scenes with cheap, tone-shifting gags.
The action is quite solid as well, making up for fuzzier special effects with thoughtful choreography that complements its leaner style. It actually mimics the way people get sucked into the tabletop game, where the world itself seems quite big at first, but it closes in on its most addicting aspects and then improvises from there. That might be the opposite of a selling point for some, especially those who want their fantasy to be a bit more high-minded and original. But Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves deftly manages to roll a 20 where it counts the most.
Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves opens in theaters on March 31. Watch the official trailer here.
Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES - 8/10