Hollywood fantasies can be a gamble in today’s world when it seems like there’s a loss of interest in them for the big screen, especially in looking at box office numbers more than likely to flop hard. But if there is a film that can make for an unexpected throwback in the best way, it is Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves carries that strength will take you along for the ride with casting spells, escaping danger, and evil wizards, and it doesn’t require a 20 sided dice.
What’s the Story: Edgrin Darvis (Chris Pine) is a bard who raised his young daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) alone after his wife gets killed. With the help of his barbarian friend Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez), they’ve put together a team of thieves to steal from those who don’t deserve it. Unfortunately, their attempt to steal a mysterious Tablet of Reawakening, a relic that can resurrect somebody from the dead, goes south as Edgrin and Holga are imprisoned. Two years later, the two escape where their old pal Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant) is the current Lord of Neverwinter and manipulates Kira into believing her father abandoned her. With the help of their friend amateur sorcerer Simon Aumar (Justice Smith) and a druid named Doric (Sophia Lillis), they’re on a quest to steal a tablet to bring back Edgrin’s wife so they can become a family again, while the Red Wizard Sofina (Daisy Head) is ahead in taking over the land for evil.
Everybody has heard of Dungeons & Dragons unless you’ve lived under a rock for nearly 50 years. It’s Hasbro’s most popular tabletop/role-playing game where friends will spend their Friday nights having an adventure. Even with a fair share of criticism back in the day of those thinking it relates to Satanism, its growth in popularity has never been better. Not just with having staying power in pop culture in episodes of Community and Stranger Things, there’s even a web series dedicated to the game called Critical Role. Have I ever played it? Never. But I can understand fans’ excitement with the news Paramount Pictures is behind this without becoming a complete failure.
Because it was once turned into a movie released in 2000 and is awful in every aspect. You can trust me when I say that nothing about that “attempt” is remembered favorably when Jeremy Irons is chewing up the scenery in the worst way possible. From a newbie’s perspective, it didn’t need to persuade me to play a campaign or two of the IP. Still, Game Night directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein needed a movie of this scale to land on the right side of the genre without feeling like a waste of time or a cash grab. Luckily, we have ourselves a fun adventure that shows appreciation for the source material it’s based on.
When you see this, and you’ve been playing the game all your life, it’s easy to see how Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves was made for fans. Not everything will make sense for those unfamiliar with the locations and powers certain characters have. Yet, they took a straightforward narrative to avoid making it confusing. The trust in hiring guys like Daley and Goldstein, who also co-wrote the script with Michael Gilio, must’ve been a genuine opportunity to make the most accurate live-action telling of D&D. The experience was similar to seeing a group of people play a game, complete with errors and difficulties that add to the fun for all. And by doing this, they averted the problems with the adaptation of Warcraft years back. You’re following a group of misfit characters around this world-building to save the day that I not only cared about but executed well enough not to feel bored. They leveled on a vibe reminiscent of an ‘80s adventure that’ll have kids go out and play, pretending to be those heroes. Also, it’s such a full-circle moment for Daley since he played the game on one of my favorite television series, Freaks and Geeks. Now he directed a big-budget fantasy with his pal that must’ve been unreal while filming.
As for the cast, it’s a fantastic ensemble. You believe they are a part of the medieval setting, caring for these characters who are at a point where they feel they’ve lost everything and need a chance to get a win in life. As we’ve come to expect from Chris Pine over the past nearly 15 years, he always makes for an endearing lead in any franchise. The fact that he cares about his character Edgrin taking the lead with wit despite he’s still a Hollywood Chris who receives little attention shows how talented he is as an actor. Michelle Rodriguez is at her best outside the Fast and the Furious franchise when she finds loyalty in Holga. As Simon and Dorgic, respectively, Sophia Lillis and Justice Smith nailed their roles with the best performance from Smith yet. And Regé-Jean Page was great as the skilled paladin Xenk Yender, almost similar to Drax, where anything dry to him won’t be helpful. But I’ll just say the Bridgerton actor isn’t in it that much, which is a shame because he was really about to start stealing the show. He disappears after exciting sequences. Hearing Hugh Grant playing a part in this evoked some eyebrows rising on my end since he’ll either commit to his performance or it’ll be one of those doing it for a paycheck acting to get by. Grant seems to be on the former side in having a fun time, almost being himself in the romantic comedies he’s been in, except being a cheeky antagonist here.
The action surprised me while on their quest, showing the duo has a knack for helming fights outside their comedy field. With a commitment that brings to mind classics like Labyrinth, Lord of the Rings and The Princess Bride, everything from the well-choreographed fights to escaping from the fattest dragon you’ll ever see in a movie screams adventure. The visual effects work exceeded my expectations when working around sets to blend in with the environment. There’s a good amount of practical effects makeup for some creatures I loved seeing. And just as they did with that single-take sequence in Game Night, they’ve one-up themselves here in following Doric shapeshifting into different animals and escaping from a castle. I didn’t notice it was a single take until a minute in. Compared to the other two comic books I’ve recently seen, this one has a better balance of comedy and action. It was never uncomfortable, but in keeping with the story’s tone, it made the other moviegoers at my showing chuckle as well. One moment involving a distraction nearly had me laughing in tears; it’s the hardest I’ve laughed at in the theater in quite a while.
Sometimes following the lore and the terminology can be tricky since there will be times when the references/ Easter eggs will show up that can be spotted when going from one location to the next. And with a runtime of 134 minutes, the film can feel a tad long where they could’ve shaved off probably ten minutes or not go over two hours. If not, then the time needed to show Sofina not be a standard villain to face. But besides those flaws, it’s refreshing to have the kind of film in the genre we don’t get nowadays.
Overall, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves was more fun than I expected, having no prior experience with the game. With impressive action from its directing duo, substantial amounts of humor that fits the tone right, and a likable cast to bask in the glory, it’s an exciting, old-fashioned fantasy that’ll appeal to both new and old fans. If all goes well with the box office numbers and word of mouth of giving it a chance, I’ll honestly be down for a sequel if the Jonathans return.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves will release in theaters in 3D, Dolby, and IMAX on March 31, 2023| Runtime: 134 Minutes| Rated PG-13 for fantasy action/violence and some language| Studio: Paramount Pictures