Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves finds fun in the dungeon

Directors: Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley Starring: Chris Pine, Michelle Rodruiguez, Hugh Grant, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Chloe Coleman, Regé-Jean Page Running Time: 134 minutes

Previous attempts to bring the enormously popular Dungeons and Dragons series to the big screen were something of a laughable disaster. The long forgotten, only remembered to mock edition of D&D The Movie from 2000 was a cheesy fantasy flick. It starred an embarrassed Jeremy Irons and flailing Marlon Wayans amid a series of unexperienced hands in front of and behind the screen, a failed attempt to bring the roleplaying game to life that retreated into Direct-to-DVD sequels.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves appears to be a much more successful effort. Though hardly ground breaking in its story, that seems almost by design; delivering a well-crafted, but reasonably throwaway story, a fun experience not built to last the test of time. If the 2000 film flopped because the people making it either didn’t care to or were unable to convey the appeal of a tabletop, Honour Among Thieves big win is how it feels like a gang of friends spending a bit of time in a fun gaming session.

Honour Among Thieves is directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, the team behind the delightful comedy Game Night, and in ways this new film is at its best when it applies that film’s breezy spirit to a fantasy setting. Chris Pine stars Edgin Darvis, a formerly noble bard who has turned to a life of crime after his righteous rule-abiding stint as a Harper (the Good Guys) led to the death of his wife. He raises his beloved daughter Kira with the help of right-hand barbarian, the outcast Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), and they form a team of thieves stealing across the land that includes Justice Smith as mid wizard Simon and Hugh Grant as conman rogue Forge Fitzwilliam. Grant is in full delightfully unctuous mode in his performance here, all hammy faces and bitchy lines, inevitably throwing his team under the bus and rising to power under the thumb of a powerful Red Wizard (the Bad Guys).

Betrayed and imprisoned, we follow Edgin and Holga on a campaign to escape, get a new party together including Sophia Lillis as a transforming tiefling druid, win back Kiara’s affections and take out Fitzwilliam and the wizards. Along the way they encounter the ludicrously honourable paladin Xenk Yandar (Regé-Jean Page), who tries to convince them of the Red Wizards threat and Edgin of his own heroic potential. Whether or not your familiar with these terms and titles, the film does a good job of explaining, but not over-explaining. It’s a easily understandable world that will have recognisable effort and Easter Eggs for fans, while holding more casual viewers hands firmly with a “It’s like Guardians of the Galaxy, but with swords and magic” tone.

The story is straightforward, but the delivery is what makes Honour Among Thieves a fun watch, an entertaining heist film with clear, reasonably low stakes and a setting that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but never calls itself into question altogether. It maintains that balance that recent superhero films have struggled with, shrugging themselves off so sarcastically that no one seems like they want to be there. Pine has the charimsa to quip for days, and tough Rodriguez, nervously nebbish Smith etc all fit into likeable, digestable archetypes. As the crew go from quest to quest, what they are doing is always taken seriously – so the action still works. How they’re doing it, that devil-may-care raised eyebrow attitude, fits into the story, it’s Edgin blowing off his own grief, dismissing his own failures to his daughter. Edgin is a leader always improvisingly haphazardly into the next plan, the film funs its fun while challenging how the team to succeed while hanging on to their hang ups.

Drawing from the structure of a heist movie – with the characters assembing a team, gathering key equipment, breaking in where they don’t belong etc., is a smart move that keeps the setting from being overwhelming, and fitting nicely with how roleplaying games are often played. The way that the thieves approach problems, suggesting various solutions and stumbling through trial and error, feels like players talking out their plan over the table, throwing in jokes, clowning on each other and experiencing understandable glee when their ideas, especially the esoteric ones, pay off. All the while, the obstacles that come there way, all very standard for a blockbuster throwing in an action scene every few pages, fit nicely with a Dungeon Master trying to catch their players out. That, rather than the leans into Marvel style casual quippery, are what give the film a nice easy breezy vibe.

Nothing too original, but nevertheless entertaining, Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves is a blockbuster that proves it has something to bring to the table.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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