Synopsis – A charming thief and a band of unlikely adventurers embark on an epic quest to retrieve a lost relic, but things go dangerously awry when they run afoul of the wrong people.
My Take – It’s a given fact that the immersive, exhausting role-playing fantasy tabletop game first published in 1974 by Tactical Studies Rules, Inc. and since 1997 by Wizards of the Coast (now a subsidiary of Hasbro) has been around for a long time. However, with the surprise resurgence in the popularity of the game, mostly thanks to Netflix‘s blockbuster series, Stranger Things, it was all but confirmed that a live-action film was never far away.
Acting as the second big screen adaptation following the disastrous Dungeons & Dragons (2000), which was followed by two equally disastrous standalone direct to video/DVD sequels, directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldestein’s cheerful and easygoing adaptation is surprisingly a strong blockbuster that surpasses every expectations.
Being a non-gamer, I personally had no idea about the accuracy of the source material nor could I pick out the supposed sprayed Easter eggs, yet despite this inability, I still can’t believe how much fun I had in the grand scheme of things. Never coming at the risk of losing newcomers.
This is a film that’s rich with imaginative quests and colorful characters, and together they take us into a beautiful magical world that just works well as one of the most balanced fantasy adventures made in a while.
Sure, the film may not be as epic as The Lord of the Rings series or as treacherous as Game of Thrones, but the film has got its heart at the right place. A crowd-pleaser that actually pleases. It’s exciting, often hilarious and the 134 minute runtime manages to feel just right.
Set in the Forgotten Realms, the story follows bard Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine), who was once the leader of a small band of thieves, which included the barbarian exile Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez), the amateur sorcerer Simon Aumar (Justice Smith), Edgin’s daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) and a rogue named Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant). Together they pulled off heists mainly against the rich.
But when Edgin agrees to a particularly dangerous job, that included pairing up with Forge’s mysterious acquaintance Sofina (Daisy Head), in the hope of acquiring an artifact that would enable him to resurrect his deceased wife, he finds himself and Holga caught, resulting in the two spending the next two years in prison in Icewind Dale.
However, following a jail break, the duo reach the city of Neverwinter to find Forge with the title of the lord. Worse, he has adopted Kira and has led her to believe that Edgin simply abandoned her.
To rescue Kira, and to prove that Forge has been lying, Edgin comes up with a plan to break into Forge’s vault in Neverwinter. Joined by Holga and Simon, they recruit Dorek (Sophia Lillis), a tiefling druid and shapeshifter, and beg for help from the paladin Xenk Yendar (Regé-Jean Page) to carry out their impossible mission.
The film makes two things clear within its first five minutes, it understands its audience and D&D experience isn’t necessary. The storyline progresses at breakneck speed, refusing to waste precious minutes of pacing to provide background on the various locations, items, or characters in order to accommodate the endless deluge of D&D references.
The story of a group of misfits going on a quest to find a magical artifact in order to pull off a heist isn’t very complex, and it’s often predictable. But it’s effective and to the point, designed to let the characters and the world speak for themselves.
Here, writers and directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein emphasize lighthearted entertainment that lifts the film above cumbersome lore. Sprawling maps with unrecognizable territory names tease the grand universe where the story (co-written by Michael Gilio) takes place, but the actual essential information is easy to digest.
Surprisingly, the film plays more as an outright comedy instead of as a middle-of-the-road jack of all trades entertainment. In other words, you actually laugh here instead of smile as the next battle scene glazes over.
The characters are constantly failing in fights and puzzles. It’s a hoot and a riot to see them be total goofs, but also a triumph when they finally succeed. There’s no embarrassment about the fantasy elements or their origins here, and no attempt to hide or undercut the nerd stuff with sarcastic, dismissive comments. No one mocks each other’s names or skills.
For viewers who’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons (like myself), the film’s world won’t be harder to wrap your head around than Westeros or Middle-earth, apart from all the creatures and cultures. You don’t actually need background on any of the references peppered throughout to enjoy the film. It’s still very clear what’s unfolding on-screen regardless of the jargon.
Yes, it’s a bit longer than its storytelling can comfortably sustain, but special effects go a long way in holding attention as the snarling monsters, or other flashy effects and costumes often dazzle and delight. There’s plenty to honor here beyond sticky-fingered thieves, which hopefully is the start of an on-screen universe that only gets stronger as quests continue. The film also employs plenty of practical creature effects that look incredible.
While some may find that the film is let down by the scale of its own ambition in places, but I still had fun — more fun than I’ve had watching a fantasy film in years, actually.
The cast is also very clearly having a blast playing familiar character types. Chris Pine shines brightest as the wisecracking Edgin. He brings his usual energy to the role, making him instantly likable. Michelle Rodriguez is her typically badass self, while Chloe Coleman, Justice Smith and Sophia Lillis are very fun in their roles. Regé-Jean Page steals scenes as the virtuous paladin Xenk, who speaks in eye-rolling prophecies, a knight so good and devout that he comes off as downright insufferable.
Hugh Grant plays Forge in similar vein to his character Guy Richie‘s new flick, Operation Fortune, and makes for a similar comedic and charming scoundrel. Daisy Head does well to showcase her villainous side. On the whole, ‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves’ is a fun-filled and wholly accessible fantasy adventure that is both epic and hilarious.
Directed – John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Starring – Michelle Rodriguez, Chris Pine, Sophia Lillis
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 134 minutes