For several decades now, Dungeons & Dragons has captivated the imaginations of tabletop players around the world, encouraging friends and family to band together and unite in their creativity to form unforgettable journeys. Except for me. Before this movie, I knew almost nothing about the universe aside from there being dungeons and, well, dragons. After watching the latest Hollywood adaptation of the iconic game with a buddy of mine who is a DnD player, we quickly made plans to play a campaign after having so much fun watching the movie.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a welcoming first impression for those who never played the tabletop games or its video game spinoffs, yet it also has plenty of goodies for fans to latch onto as well, according to my friend. It’s a fairly simple story that pleasantly surprised me with a meaningful lesson for the protagonist, who is a thief that never attacks the innocent named Edgin played by the ever dashing Chris Pine. After a dreadful turn of events, he’s on a new quest to find a magical McGuffin that will allow him to have a happily-ever-after, as well as his friends and his daughter. The adventure takes him, a musclebound warrior, an inexperienced sorcerer, and a sassy druid through beautiful fields, dangerous caverns, and a deadly arena filled with traps and monsters. There’s quite a bit that happens, yet somehow, I found it well paced. No particular sidequest or plot device felt out-of-place and kept the momentum moving forward, even having some nice, slow moments to reflect on what the characters have been through and how they need to push forward. The only aspect of the film that could have probably been edited down was the reliance on flashbacks. There are a lot of them. Though they helped give context to the characters and how they fit in the overall plot, it takes away a lot of time that I think would have been used better to build up the characters a wee bit more. Although, the characters were all charming in their own unique ways. It almost has a Guardians of the Galaxy feel to it, as these faulty and otherwise unpleasant people team up and end up becoming heroes. Speaking of the galactic misfits, another DnD player I know was really skeptical of the movie based on how humorous the trailers turned out to be, and though its sense of humor was similar to that found in Marvel blockbusters, it was more serious than Guardians of the Galaxy in my opinion. It honestly felt like a more lighthearted Lord of the Rings. It had a classic, epic fantasy vibe to it, while sprinkling in some goofiness to keep things fun. This isn’t a dark fantasy like The Witcher or Game of Thrones. Ultimately, it’s a fun fantasy romp, which, according my DnD buddy, is exactly what the game is. From what he told me, the game always sets you and your friends on a very serious and dangerous quest, but as you progress, you and your friends are bound to get into some shenanigans and crack some jokes at each other. Again, there is a surprisingly serious and well-intentioned message in this movie, so it’s not entirely a comedy. Even with some pace-breaking flashbacks and some drastic tonal changes, this was a great time for both me (not a fan) and my friend (a fan).
As mentioned before, Chris Pine stars as the charming thief of the story, and he does an excellent job of having fun in the goofy world he inhabits and the seriousness of the character’s layers. His companions are also delightful. Michelle Rodriquez also finds a nice balance being a tough-as-nails warrior, while embracing a sillier side when appropriate. However, I think Justice Smith, who plays the inexperienced sorcerer Simon, and Sophia Lillis, who plays the reluctant druid Doric, steal the spotlight at times with their banter between members of the group and their commentary on the quest. Their lighthearted dialogues fit well with their young characters, who are scared and intimidated by the harrowing antics, and to me, this makes their jovial chats more natural. The only actor who struggled to make the jokes land was Regé-Jean Page as Xenk. He played an otherwise awesome character, but unfortunately, he suffered at times from both poor writing and unconvincing delivery. Comedy wasn’t his strong suit here and felt out of place. At least he had one of the best fight scenes in the whole movie, so I think that makes up for it. Hugh Grant also seemed to stumble from time to time, though his comedic delivery was a bit better. It seemed like he was going for Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster from Thor: Ragnarok, which gave the acting a sense of unoriginality. Overall, the cast did a very good job at making this movie so much fun. Their interactions with each other is delightful, surprisingly rivaling the entertainment of the fight scenes.
If the story and the characters aren’t enough to keep you engaged with the movie, the visuals might. Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein had an obvious blast bringing this fantastical world to life. They did an absolutely fantastic job combining practical sets and costumes with special effects, and the end result is a spectacle. I was pleasantly surprised by how many practical costumes there were, as I’m sure it was difficult for actors to perform in them, but they helped make the world feel much more tangible. There were also some gorgeous scenic shots of landscapes that were clearly inspired by Lord of the Rings. Sure, it’s not original, but it does please the eyes! Not only did they utilize real sets and costumes very well, they got really creative with the CGI too. In fact, they probably challenged themselves to create some artistic and risky scenarios, but I think it made the movie all the more fun. For example, there’s an incredibly well choreographed one shot of Doric escaping from her foes, shapeshifting from one creature to another and back to the actress. It’s well timed, well paced, and, more importantly, well made. There’s another scene that I loved that featured a heist using a portal. The interdimensional travel from one spot to another allowed the filmmakers to come up with some clever shots and effects that made the scene feel special. Those were just a couple of highlights from otherwise a series of well designed scenes that culminated into a very entertaining, whimsical, magical adventure.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is an exciting thrillride from start to finish. Though its combination of Tolkien epicness with Marvel silliness may not work for everybody, it’s hard to argue that it’s not a solid action movie that has some high quality production and talent behind and in front of the camera. More importantly, it focused on the “honor” part of its title, giving the narrative some heart that helped make the movie resonate with me sometimes. I didn’t know what to expect going into this movie, but I knew coming out I had an incredibly fun time with my friend. Now I must end this review, because we’ve got a game to play.
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