Dungeons & Dragons, or D&D, as it is affectionately known by its legion of devoted fans, is a tabletop role-playing game that quickly became a cult sensation upon its release in the early 1970s. The game was previously turned into a rather dreadful movie in the year 2000 that starred Jeremy Irons, Marlon Wayans, and Thora Birch. This new take, Honor Among Thieves, hails from Game Night directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, and it’s surprisingly not half-bad — a mildly entertaining adventure comedy that should please audiences even beyond those who have played the game for years with their friends.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves stars Chris Pine as Edgin Darvis, a bard who is on a quest to bring his murdered wife back to life. He is accompanied in his quest by Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), an exile from a different tribe who has helped Edgin raise his daughter and must now help him try to recover an ancient relic that is very important. Over the course of their journey, Edgin and Holga encounter paladins (including one played by Bridgerton breakout Regé-Jean Page), sorcerers (such as Justice Smith), druids (Sophia Lillis), and con artists gone rogue, including one Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant). There are, of course, wizards as well as the advertised prison cells and flying, fire-breathing menaces of the title, which promises an entire convoluted universe full of great adventure.
But if the set-up seems intimidating to those among us who never quite understood what all the D&D hype was about, worry not. Though the world may be new to the uninitiated, its concepts of wizards and witchcraft, of spells and magic, are not. Daley and Goldstein, along with co-writers Michael Gilio and Chris McKay, do a spectacular job of inviting viewers of all stripes and provenances into this world and making it accessible and fun — the script is laced with comedy and presumably some inside jokes that will go completely over the head of non-adherents — all the while making it amusing and exciting as well.
Edgin and Holga are imprisoned early on and must not only escape but also face a series of videogame-like challenges in aid of their ultimate personal quests. Complex spells and hexes make appearances, again, presumably referential throwaways to the board game, but sufficiently intelligible to the rest of us. Composer Lorne Balfe, an expert in sci-fi scores, creates a magnificent little soundtrack that perfectly captures the playful overtones of the movie and its nerdy, fantastical elements. Amanda Monk (After Life) creates textured period costumes commensurate with how most of these characters are described in the original materials, and editing by Dan Lebental (Spider-Man: Far From Home) turns a series of low-budget effects into something more exciting than this film has any business being.
Of course, not all is honorable among the thieving executives who greenlit this film, and not all is well in this wizardry semi-paradise. The enchantments eventually overwhelm a lot of the plot, with the script becoming more interested in clicking boxes that devoted audiences will recognize than in totally staying on target. The story then also becomes predictable in ways that no number of transfigurations, disappearances, or resurrections will cure. In fact, it’s precisely because everything is possible in this world that it’s nearly impossible to imagine any outcome other than the ones you perceive long before Edgin and Holga get to the game’s final levels, otherwise known as Act 3.
Despite its flaws, it’s gratifying, if a little surprising, to be able to report that Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, is a perfectly charming piece of studio fare, one that you will forget almost instantly after walking out of the theater but will remain glad to have seen on the big screen anyway.
Pine has somewhat mastered the art of the comedic role-playing hero, the swashbuckler with a heart of gold but a checkered criminal history — Pirates of the Caribbean style. Rodriguez makes for the perfect foil here — she’s always at least twice as stern and determined as whoever her counterpart is, and she provides this a surprising emotional anchor to a film that’s a bit light-around-the-edges otherwise.
Will this Dungeons & Dragons movie achieve the sort of devout following that once made “role-playing” a household concept — one that arguably ushered in an entire library of video game franchises? It’s too soon to tell, of course, though it is already obvious that Honor Among Thieves and its creators were just good enough to earn themselves another throw of the 20-sided dice.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is now playing in theaters nationwide courtesy of Paramount Pictures.