Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves
Thanks to its stacked cast and light tone, the latest attempt to bring 'D&D' to the screen is enough of a romp for fans and newcomers alike.
March 27, 2023
More than most games, Dungeons & Dragons thrives or dies based on the people rolling the dice, creating their own characters and casting spells. Whether Stranger Things' demogorgon-slaying teens are hunched over a table imagining up their fantasy dreams, or flesh-and-blood folks who aren't just part of a TV series find themselves pretending that they're fighters and clerics, an adventure or campaign is only as good as the party at its core. Writer/directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley understand this. The latter definitely should: the one-season TV great Freaks and Geeks, which gave him his start as an actor when he was just a kid, threw D&D some love, too. As filmmakers, Goldstein and Daley jump from Game Night to Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves with a clear mission: making the swords-and-sorcery flick's cast its biggest strength.
This game-to-screen flick sports a stacked roster, starting with Chris Pine (Don't Worry Darling) as Edgin Darvis, a bard and former member of the Harpers who turned petty thief — complete with a Robin Hood-esque attitude — after his wife passed away. Since his daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman, Avatar: The Way of Water) was a baby, he's been co-parenting with his gruff best friend Holga Kilgore, a stoic exiled barbarian, who is played with exactly the stern look that Michelle Rodriguez (Fast & Furious 9) was always going to bring to the part. When Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves opens, however, Edgin and Holga have been in prison for almost two years thanks to a job gone wrong. Brought out of their dank dungeon to plead for their release, Edgin and Holga are determined to get free by any means necessary. And, once they're out, they're equally as committed to reuniting their makeshift family.
Yes, a dungeon is indeed sighted within seconds of the film starting. Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves doesn't skimp on dragons when it's their turn to arrive, either. But there's more cast members to bring into the fray — and, handily, Edgin and Holga had a whole gang back in their escapade-heavy days. Rogue and con artist Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant, Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre) was one such party member. Simon Aumar (Justice Smith, Sharper), a sorcerer with hefty confidence issues, was another. These days, Forge has turned nefarious, seized guardianship of Kira, become Lord of Neverwinter, and gotten far too friendly with the fierce, fearsome and necromancy-loving Red Wizard of Thay Sofina (Daisy Head, Wrong Turn). Simon is still trying his magical luck, which is quickly needed, alongside help from tiefling druid Doric (Sophie Lillis, IT and IT: Chapter Two) and paladin Xenk Yendar (Regé-Jean Page, The Gray Man).
As Dungeon Masters — co-scripting with Michael Gilio (Jolene), and working with a story by him and The Lego Batman Movie's Chris McKay — Goldstein and Daley thrust their various figures together, then shape a story around them. So, it's all classic D&D, just on-screen with copious amounts of special effects (some overdone in the usual CGI-dripping fantasy blockbuster fashion, some pleasingly looking more tangible, such as reanimated corpses voiced by Aunty Donna Down Under) rather than sitting around a board. Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves' tale couldn't be more straightforward, or fittingly episodic — with actions to complete, skills called upon and combat unleashed. There's no 20-sided die, but there is said bard and barbarian, and the sorcerer, druid and paladin with them, battling a rogue and wizard. And, straight out of the Monster Manual, owlbears, displacer beasts, red dragons and gelatinous cubes all make an appearance.
Whether they first had everyone moving miniatures or mashing buttons, games are having a heap of big- and small-screen moments in 2023. The Last of Us is one of the year's very best new TV shows, a film about getting Tetris out of Russia and to the masses makes for a tense and entertaining streaming thriller, and The Super Mario Bros Movie gives the Nintendo favourite the animated treatment. A question lingers over all of them, though, and for fans and newcomers alike: would it be more engaging, and more fun, just to play? Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves answers by giving the act of watching the feel of playing regardless of whether you're a level zero or level 20 with its mythology — in its light, jovial and energetic tone, with the film taking itself earnestly but never grimly seriously; and in no small part thanks to its array of faces.
Stranger Things has been helping broaden D&D's influence for nearing a decade now, but everything from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Futurama and Community to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The IT Crowd and Gravity Falls have nodded its way, too — and Goldstein and Daley also understand this. Their take on the game is welcomely accessible, while appropriately loving and still packed with nudges and references. That said, it's also padded and repetitive the more that it goes goes on. And Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves does go on, clocking in at 134 minutes. Some lengthy films make the time fly by — see: John Wick: Chapter 4, which could've lasted forever — but this one doesn't quite realise when a good time becomes an overly formulaic one. The fights and confrontations, the quips and character beats, the beasts and underground cells: after a while, a fantasy-101 feeling sinks in, especially in these days of ample worshipping thrown Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, The Witcher and company's ways.
Mostly, Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves is enough of a romp — a romp with clear franchise-starting ambitions, even though there's already been three D&D movies dating back to 2000, but a romp nonetheless. Take out Pine and his on-screen pals, though, and it would've been all over the map. His charm is breezy, and his rapport with Rodriguez gives the film a likeable chalk-and-cheese duo. Page is as smooth as ever — yes, Bridgerton-level smooth — and Grant is visibly having a blast of a time getting villainous Paddington 2-style. Head, daughter of Buffy and Ted Lasso's Anthony Stewart Head, frequently shows up the pixel wizardry with just her glare and makeup. Yes, Dungeons & Dragons is all about the folks playing both on- and off-screen, and Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves' bunch makes viewers want to play along with them.
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