WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves’ – magic and monsters on the big screen
‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves’ is a breezy blockbuster entertainment film, with a well-balanced mix of humour and heart.
If you were to describe the high fantasy genre on the basis of what has reached our screens in recent years, one might think of adjectives like epic, dour, gritty or even austere. From The Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones and The Witcher, fantastic alternate universes filled with magic and monsters are presented as serious places, with their inhabitants forever living in the shadow of war and world-ending calamity.
However, if you’ve ever played tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons, you’ve probably developed a very different sense of what high fantasy is.
Typically an apocalyptic threat will be part of the mix, but Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t skimp on fulfilment and fun. If your paladin wants to open a chain of massage parlours (branded Lay on Hands), nothing except your game master, and maybe some dice rolls, is stopping you. There’s a lot of light-hearted shenanigans at an individual level in Dungeons & Dragons, as character needs intersect with player wants.
That playful spirit is something that the new movie Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves captures especially well. The fantasy action adventure doesn’t build up to some giant battle of 10 armies; the world is at stake from the threat of Red Wizards, but Honor Among Thieves is in essence a rollicking heist tale involving a band of adventurers who represent signature player classes from the game.
Released from prison after a botched theft, bard Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine), along with his old criminal partners, barbarian Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) and half-elf sorcerer Simon Aumar (Justice Smith), rope in the assistance of tiefling druid Doric (Sophia Lillis) and insufferably perfect paladin Xenk Yendar (Regé-Jean Page) to break into the vault of the new Lord of Neverwinter. Elevated to the position of ruler just so happens to be Edgin’s former rogue colleague Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant), who has struck a deal with dark wizard Sofina (Daisy Head).
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is full of references to its tabletop origins – including a delightful surprise nod to the Eighties animated series – but even if you’ve never seen a 20-sided die, you’ll be able to jump into its on-screen world.
One of the film’s greatest pleasures is just how accessible it is: in an era of sequels, prequels and requels, where franchises are pushing beyond trilogies, Honor Among Thieves is a standalone. Audiences don’t have to be up to date with two movies’ (and three spin-off TV series’) worth of plot to know and understand what is going on.
Honor Among Thieves also manages to include heartfelt moments; this is perhaps surprising from writer-director pair Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, who scripted the Horrible Bosses movies, until you realise they also worked on the screenplay of the rather emotionally charged Spider-Man: Homecoming.
As it is, combined with strong production values, and an inventive exploration of how magic would be used to pull off a risky burglary, Honor Among Thieves emerges as an actual good Dungeons & Dragons movie. If you’ve been put off by the notoriously awful 2000 big-screen take (starring Marlon Wayans and Jeremy Irons), and its two straight-to-DVD sequels, don’t be.
Yet, it’s also not a movie without flaws; it leaves some key plot threads dangling in the end, Lillis is underutilised compared with her fellow leads, and the final arena battle feels both abrupt and constrained.
Still, you rarely feel its 134-minute length as it strides confidently and charismatically from scene to scene, and, as a whole, the film mirrors the likeability of its cast, who get to play to their charming strengths. There’s a good chance you’ll walk out of this one with a smile on your face, and a little bit of vicarious adventurer swagger. DM/ML
This story was first published on Pfangirl.com
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is available in cinemas from 31 March.