Despite being based on a role-playing game that’s been around for almost 50 years and is more popular now than ever, Dungeons & Dragons hasn’t been especially well-served in the realm of film adaptations. Its first theatrical foray was pummeled by critics when it was released in the holiday season of 2000, with subsequent made-for-TV and direct-to-video installments making for a particularly obscure trilogy. Ripe for a reboot, the franchise finally gets an entry that should make fans proud with Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, a rollicking action comedy that cleverly integrates key tenets of the game. The film understands the power behind dynamic storytelling and often feels as if it’s creating itself in real time, honoring the spirit of the source material in addition to the myriad direct references to lore and characters.
Taking place in a fantasy world where magic intermingles with everyday life, Honor Among Thieves stars Chris Pine as Edgin, a thief serving time with barbarian Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) after they were caught during their last heist. In his absence, Edgin entrusts his daughter to Forge (Hugh Grant), a member of his crew who got away and since ascended to the status of lord of Neverwinter with the help of shadowy Red Wizard Sofina (Daisy Head). Edgin and Holga escape prison in hopes of reuniting with Edgin’s daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) but are double-crossed and nearly executed by the duplicitous Forge. Recruiting druid Doric (Sophia Lillis) and sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith), Edgin crafts a plan to get back at Forge using the unique set of skills among the newly-banded team.
At the helm of Honor Among Thieves are co-directors — Dungeon Masters, in the game’s parlance — Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, who teamed up previously for the hilarious Game Night. Just as that film integrated the mechanics of various party games into its narrative, the duo’s latest collaboration gives the audience the feeling that they’re watching a game unfold in real time. Edgin is a schemer, always coming up with plans and workarounds when obstacles present themselves, as they often do during a D&D adventure. Sometimes, the contingencies that arise highlight the comically unpredictable nature of this universe; during the film’s funniest sequence, Doric remarks “that seems arbitrary” when Simon relays the rules behind a temporary reanimation spell.
Along with co-writer Michael Gilio, Goldstein and Daley are very clever in the way that they weave in moments of humor that are germane to this world as opposed to having the characters wink at the camera. The performers don’t feel like they’re playing up the material too hard and the script doesn’t read like it’s stopping every few minutes for punch-up levity. This is a funny movie but not at the expense of the action and the stakes of the story. While the action isn’t always shot and edited with the same care that was taken with the screenplay, Rodriguez once again proves herself as a top talent for tactile fight scenes. Regé-Jean Page is also excellent as a paladin named Xenk, who gets a handful of cool combat setpieces and noble one-liners as a foil to Edgin’s scoundrel propensities. “Just because that sentence is symmetrical doesn’t make it not nonsense,” Edgin quips after one of Xenk’s nuggets of wisdom.
I should mention that I’ve never actually played Dungeons & Dragons before; I had my time with Magic: The Gathering ages ago, but that’s a story for another day. The important point is that whether you’ve played dozens of D&D campaigns or you’ve never picked up a twenty-sided die in your life, Honor Among Thieves will entertain one and the same. Like any good fantasy movie, it keeps us clued into the terminology within this world and what each of these characters brings to the table without getting bogged down in exposition. When Daley was playing Dungeons & Dragons on Freaks and Geeks around the time the first film was released, he probably didn’t think he’d one day be co-directing his own cinematic version of it. Even in the realm of the fantastical, the magic of movies is a power all its own.
Score – 4/5
More new movies coming this weekend:
Streaming on Netflix is Murder Mystery 2, an action comedy starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston as a pair of full-time detectives who find themselves at the center of an international abduction plot when their friend is kidnapped at his own lavish wedding.
Premiering on Apple TV+ is Tetris, a biopic starring Taron Egerton and Toby Jones which tells the true story of the high-stakes legal battle to secure the intellectual property rights to the titular tetromino-filled video game.
Coming to Hulu is Rye Lane, a romantic dramedy starring David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah centering around a pair of young South Londoners reeling from bad break-ups who connect over the course of an eventful day and help each other deal with their nightmare exes.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup