23 years after Hollywood first attempted to adapt the Dungeons & Dragons phenomenon with an entirely forgettable fantasy that starred Jimmy Olsen from TV’s Lois & Clark, and had Marlon Wayans setting back racial stereotypes by a good few decades, the (studio) powers that be have opted to re-polish the IP, rolling the dice on directing duo John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, no doubt hoping the luck they had with their last game-centric outing will be similarly brought forth; for those unversed, their 2018 comedy Game Night is a must on the watch list.
Whilst it may not be as darkly witty as Game Night, there’s still a multitude of fun to be had with Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves, most of which stems from the knowledge that Daley and Goldstein are clearly aware that there’s only so many ways to reimagine a genre that’s pretty tried and true at this point. The film makes no false promises by littering its scenery with literal dungeons and dragons, and though said dragons are visually exciting creations, they’re still variations on what other fantasy pieces have offered prior. No, where Dungeons & Dragons finds its footing – because, yes, there’s a heroes journey on hand – is in the character interaction and the comedic sensibilities they all navigate, both separately and together.
Essentially a heist movie at its core, Chris Pine (as charming and void of vanity as you’d expect) and Michelle Rodriguez (layering her tough-girl persona with genuine heart and levity) lead the charge as Edgin and Holga, respectively, a bard and a barbarian out to reclaim their freedom and steal back a macguffin of sorts (this one able to resurrect the deceased) that wrongfully imprisoned them; the smarmy Forge (the smarmy Hugh Grant), a con-man and their former cohort, letting them take the fall for the crime some two years prior.
Knowing that as an “Ocean’s Two” they don’t stand a chance in taking down Forge and his right-hand, the powerful sorceress Sofina (Daisy Head), Edgin and Holga do a little recruiting along the way, manging to entice the hapless, insecure Simon (Justice Smith), a sorcerer with more strength than he gives himself credit for, and Doric (Sophia Lillis), a shapeshifter, to join them on their quest. Naturally, action, magic, and hilarity ensue.
Whilst Goldstein and Daly’s script never entirely detours from an unexpected path – the duo sharing writing duties with Michael Gilio – it’s certainly commendable of them that they know how to paint a fresh coat on familiar housing. Similarly, just as the entire ensemble lean into their archetypes with an unmatched glee, the intelligence of the film’s casting and the filmmakers come to a glorious head with the introduction of Regé-Jean Page as Xenk Yendar, a holy knight with no sense of humour and a penchant for rejecting irony. Perhaps best described as a more chiselled embodiment of Dave Bautista’s literal-thinking Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy, Page shifts the comedic mindset of the film, a mentality that Pine ultimately runs away with; one moment involving his Edgin playing the lute as a form of distraction is guaranteed to serve you the belly laugh you didn’t know you needed.
As someone who never has played any version of Dungeons & Dragons I have no point of reference as to whether or not the film remains faithful to gameplay. If it deviates from the core of the game, one can only hope that enthusiasts still find value in the well-intentioned temperament of all involved as Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves is a supremely entertaining outing that balances its situational comedy and emotional outlay with a welcome confidence. But given that D&D was essentially a creation that helped hoards of teenagers find their confidence and their squads (as the youngens would say), it makes sense that the film would celebrate the familial constitution that built the strength of the very people who worship it so. Honourable indeed.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves is screening in Australian theatres from March 30th, 2023, following select advance screenings from March 17th.
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