"Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" stars Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, and Hugh Grant. Released on March 31, 2023, the film has a group of misfits teaming up to defeat a powerful villain.
The film is directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, who also directed "Vacation" and "Game Night". They're also known for writing screenplays for films like "Horrible Bosses", "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone", and "Vacation Friends". It is based on the tabletop role-playing game by Hasbro. The 1970s witnessed the rise of a role-playing fantasy phenomenon that immersed people in another world without actually going there. That is known as "Dungeons & Dragons", a tabletop game that allows players to create their own characters and embark on many adventures in the fantasy realm, complete with dragons, danger, and fun interactions with their friends. Despite its share of controversies, "Dungeons & Dragons" expanded into a best-known and best-selling franchise consisting of later editions, shows (including "Critical Role"), video games, an animated series, and, more importantly, movies.
Its first attempt at bringing "Dungeons & Dragons" to the big screen dates back to 2000 with Courtney Solomon's "Dungeons & Dragons", starring Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans, and Jeremy Irons. Despite being a critical and commercial failure, that movie spawned two sequels that were just as bad as the first. I haven't seen them, but the covers show that it's for the best that they released them on DVD and television. Eleven years after the release of "Dungeons & Dragons 3", the fantasy franchise has returned to the big screen with a star-studded reboot, thanks to its resurgence from "Stranger Things". So was it able to successfully revamp the popular geek-fueled RPG for long-time fans and newcomers, or does it show that Hollywood still hasn't learned their lesson from its past attempts? Let's roll the dice and find out.
The story follows Edgin Darvis (Pine), a bard who's also a former member of the Harpers. After a vicious Red Wizard murders his wife, Edgin attempts to make a new life for himself and his daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) with the help of exiled barbarian Holga Kilgore (Rodriguez). Unsurprisingly, Edgin's new life involves committing theft because getting a job is too much work for a single father. Edgin and Holga form a team with amateur sorcerer Simon Kumar (Smith) and conman Forge Fitzwilliam (Grant) to commit several thieving quests. Unfortunately, their latest mission involving the resurrection tablet resulted in their betrayal by the Red Wizard Sofina (Daisy Head), resulting in the imprisonment of Edgin and Holga.
After escaping the prison two years later, Edgin discovers that Forge has been acting as Kira's guardian and has become the Lord of Neverwinter. However, Forge is also in cahoots with Sofina, who stole a mystic artifact that could end the world. To overthrow Forge and rescue Kira, Edgin and Holga attempt to form a new team consisting of Simon and the tiefling druid Doric (Lillis). This new group of thieves attempts to pull off the biggest heist in history: breaking into Forge's vault and retrieving the resurrection tablet.
Obviously, I don't follow the "Dungeons & Dragons" brand, let alone play it. I didn't even bother to watch the films it's based on before "Honor Among Thieves", which is probably for the best regarding their reviews. I was only familiar with the franchise from specific conventions and its depictions on film and television, including "Stranger Things", but I didn't bother to get involved in its complex and expansive fantasy world. So if you're asking me a question about "Dungeons & Dragons", all you'll get from me is a big, fat "Huh?". Nonetheless, I was curious about this reboot, mainly because of its cast and the decision to provide a light-hearted tone amid its fantasy action compared to the previous films. This decision has the makings of either revitalizing the franchise or burning it to a crisp. To my surprise, it wound up being the former, with enough action, comedy, and endearment to make it a refreshingly fun revisit to the world of "Dungeons & Dragons".
We have plenty of action movies that tend to take themselves seriously, especially the ones with absurd concepts, whether they're related to fantasy or something else. While I don't see it as a bad thing, it does take away the experience of watching something that looked like a fun trip, resulting in them being generic or forgettable. It highly depends on a specific film and its intentions. "Honor Among Thieves" is another film that stands apart from that category because it has the identity it wants to be and sticks with it from beginning to end. It's a light-hearted, energetic, and comical fantasy adventure that's surprisingly balanced with its wholesomeness and inspiring messages. It didn't go out of the way to be an emotionally profound and award-winning fantasy masterpiece like "The Lord of the Rings". Instead, it stayed true to its word of being a harmless and endearing piece of popcorn entertainment, and it's all the better for it.
In addition to its entertainment values, "Honor Among Thieves" benefitted surprisingly well from its direction and screenplay. Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley seemed like a pretty big gamble at first regarding their hit-and-miss filmography, especially their directorial efforts. They directed the less-than-stellar sequel to "Vacation" in 2015 but later bounced back with 2018's "Game Night". So I was interested in seeing how their vision would fit into a big-budget blockbuster like "Dungeons & Dragons". After seeing the film, I can admit that their vision works really well. The two Johns provided the film's infectious energy and charm into the action and comedy without straying too far into spoof territory. However, I was also surprised to see how well they directed its action sequences. Regarding the scope of its long-take frameworks and choreography, the two Johns delivered plenty of immersion into the fantasy scenes without resorting to switching to different angles every couple of seconds. The sequence involving Doric escaping from the guards is an excellent example of that aspect.
The two Johns were also involved with the screenplay co-written by Michael Gilio, who created the story with Chris McKay. Not only was it nicely written, but it's also filled with clever humor and heartwarming messages, particularly for Edgin and Simon. The film's comedy is easily one of the best parts of its script, even though not all of them stuck the landing for me. It represents the characters in a charming and likable matter. More importantly, the humor offers plenty of jokes that subtly reference people who understand the lore and those who don't without being too meta or modernized. Because of that, the movie further reflects its accessibility, meaning you don't have to play the games to understand "Honor Among Thieves". Unfortunately, the only issues I had with the script were that it lacked any huge surprises, and the film overstayed its welcome by 20 minutes. Thankfully, the movie compensates for it with its swift pacing and an entertaining, straightforward premise.
Part of the film's appealing nature is its delightful cast of talented actors who had just as much fun as the movie itself. Chris Pine hits all of the right notes regarding his performance as Edgin. He not only delivered the charm and the laughs but also provided heart for his character, who struggles with the death of his wife. Michelle Rodriguez also did very well with her role as Holga, and Justice Smith makes for an enjoyable sorcerer with the lack of magical experience. Then, there's Hugh Grant, who has recently been impressing me nonstop with his last few movies, including "Operation Fortune". Unsurprisingly, his amusing performance as Forge Fitzwilliam is no exception. I would compare Grant's performance as Forge to Jeremy Irons' Scar from "The Lion King", which makes sense considering Irons also starred in the 2000 adaptation of "Dungeons & Dragons". Both characters are mischievous and deceiving, but the actors behind them have a blast manifesting their villainous personalities.
I will also credit the film for its visual effects, which were well displayed onscreen. This is due to the filmmakers' decision to use CGI and practical effects for the specific creatures onscreen and the set designs. They used CGI for the giant monsters, like the massive dragon in the underground city, and the practical effects, like the animatronics, for the smaller ones, mainly the humanoid creatures. It resembles how "The Lord of the Rings" and "Star Wars" used CGI and practical effects to provide authentic and imaginative worlds without relying heavily on green screens and computers. It's an impressive aspect that I'll never get tired of, especially in this day and age where only CGI makes things easier to provide movie magic, for better or worse.
Overall, "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" casts a near-perfect spell that provides a massively fun and action-packed revival of the iconic fantasy franchise. The film's excessive runtime and straightforward narrative may not help it convince every newcomer to join the adventure. However, it does its job of being a good-spirited and easily accessible installment that isn't afraid to have fun with itself. Regarding its engaging cast, direction, good screenplay, clever humor, and entertaining action sequences, "Honor Among Thieves" is a well-deserved surprise and a highly entertaining quest worth taking. Additionally, it's another impressive showcase for Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley regarding their balance of action and comedy in their direction and screenplay. So if you're looking for a fun theatrical experience filled with humor, action, and heart, you don't want to pass up on this fantastical journey.