Directors: Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley
Cast : Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Hugh Grant, Chloe Coleman, Daisy Head
Run Time : 134 min
Opens : 30 March, sneaks 24-26 March
Rating : PG13
The fantasy tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons has permeated popular culture – it and its influences are inescapable even for those who don’t play the game. Related media including novels, comics, animated series and movies and video games abound. A live-action movie trilogy consisting of one theatrical film and two direct-to-DVD follow-ups is largely regarded with derision, meaning that before long, Hasbro would pursue a reboot. After a years-long process with a rotation of creative teams and tussles over rights issues, the result is Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.
Edgin (Chris Pine) is a thief and a bard and Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) is a barbarian who live in the Forgotten Realms. The two are unlikely friends and Holga has helped Edgin to raise his daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman). Alongside struggling sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith), tiefling druid Doric (Sophia Lillis) and paladin Xenk (Regé-Jean Page), Edgin and Holga embark on a quest to retrieve an ancient relic. The charming but none-too-trustworthy Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant) has formed an alliance with Sofina (Daisy Head), a dangerous Red Wizard of Thay, and our band of unlikely heroes must prevent untold destruction from befalling the land.
There are some fans of high fantasy who feel like the genre should be a deadly serious affair, but most people who have attempted a D&D campaign at some point in their lives will tell you that things inevitably descend into silliness, even if that wasn’t the intention. Honor Among Thieves generally accomplishes the balancing act of mixing big-budget epic fantasy spectacle with the humour that arises from characters with half-formed plans dealing with things going awry. Directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley display an earnestness and sincerity and an affection for the source material, as well as enough self-awareness of all the attendant tropes and the expectations associated with something like this. It’s not trying to be Lord of the Rings, but it doesn’t feel cheap, and it’s just irreverent enough without being flippant in an off-putting way. There are a few impressive set-pieces, including one when the shape-shifting Doric transforms into various animals while being pursued by guards through the palace. Location filming in Northern Ireland also ensures that it doesn’t feel like the whole thing was shot on a green screen, and there is just enough grandeur given the generally light tone.
Honor Among Thieves is meant to appeal to both seasoned D&D players and newcomers who know nothing about the game, and that’s always a tricky thing to pull off. If you’ve memorised the manual, there are probably lots of things to nit-pick, and you can argue about whether a tiefling can Wild Shape into an Owlbear all the live-long day. The fantasy trappings in the movie can feel derivative, and a lot of the dialogue serves to tell the audience “oh, there’s more to this character but that’s not important right now”. The 134-minute runtime is also a touch too long, so this isn’t the breezy adventure it could’ve been.
A major strength of the movie is its casting. Pretty much everyone here is cast exactly to type, and it works. Chris Pine can do the charming, roguish thing in his sleep, and he makes the ideal bard, playing the role with just enough of a wink and a nod.
Michelle Rodriguez’ Barbarian character is very much the strong, silent type, but we get some clues to her back-story that do flesh the character out. Rodriguez and Pine make a surprisingly effective double act.
Justice Smith plays “in over his head” very well, and that’s exactly what Simon is. It is very satisfying to see the character go on an arc and eventually improve – somewhat.
Sophia Lillis is this reviewer’s favourite actor in the movie – she brings a level of mystique and etherealness to Doric that fits the fantasy setting perfectly.
Regé-Jean Page is not in a lot of the movie, but he gets the full knight in shining armour treatment, and looks great doing it.
Hugh Grant is just the right choice to get the “and starring” credit here, as a smarmy, conceited, smooth-talking con artist. It’s pretty much the same character he’s been playing recently in things like The Gentlemen and Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre. It’s not quite on the level of his Paddington 2 performance, but it gets the job done.
Summary: Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves promises a comedic, big-budget fantasy adventure, and mostly delivers. A little bit Guardians of the Galaxy, a little bit The Princess Bride and a little bit Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it’s satisfying and entertaining and is clearly made by people with an affection for the game. Some of the world-building is a little unwieldy, as can happen with lore-heavy properties, and the 134-minute runtime is a touch too long. However, the movie more than gets by on pitch-perfect casting, with Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez and Hugh Grant all playing exactly to type and excelling at it. Stick around for one mid-credits scene.
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars