Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves steals the show

Dungeons & Dragons Honor Among Thieves Chris Pine

Films that own up to what they are and, more importantly, what they’re meant to be have become more common in recent times. This is a very good thing. Cocaine Bear was a movie about a bear on cocaine, a case of absolutely accurate advertising. The biggest hit of 2022, Top Gun: Maverick, gave audiences the thrill they’ve been yearning for since they saw the first one back in 1986. These examples exhibit a sense of sincerity, that the filmmakers know what kind of film they’re making and subsequently into the elements that made them great. Not everyone has to work to subvert audience expectations, for better or for worse. Dungeons & Dragons bears the unique characteristic of being a property that invites roleplayers to lay their sincerity and creativity on what is, effectively speaking, a blank slate.

And while Honor Among Thieves, the first theatrical adaptation of the hit roleplaying franchise in over two decades, may be accused of not being very original, its sincerity and clear love for the property upholds the film as one of the most fun movies you’ll see this year.

Having escaped from prison after a heist gone wrong, Lute-playing bard Edgin Darvis (played by Chris Pine), along with friend and disgraced barbarian Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez) set out to reunite with Edgin’s daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman). The reunion goes awry as Kira is held in the clutches of the duo’s former partner and swindler Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant), who may be unwittingly involved in a dark conspiracy by forces unknown. Darvis is forced to plan another heist and pull his team back together. The team includes sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith), tiefling druid Doric (Sophie Lillis) and paladin Xenk Yendar (Regé-Jean Page) who, together with our unlikely heroes, will set out on an epic and “well-planned” adventure across the Forgotten Realms.

Honor Among Thieves is devoid of irony throughout its entire two-hour runtime. The film is 100% committed to taking its source material seriously and that commitment is reflected across the overall production. The story is structured like a traditional DnD campaign. The characters, though they may be archetypes, are allowed to breathe and each performer injects their own mannerisms and playful twists into the performances. The dialogue is not plagued by modern references in the pursuit of laughs and instead focuses on character interactions and tendencies with the humour coming off as more organic. A two-hour runtime is long for a movie of this nature but it does not feel its length thanks to consistent pacing fueled by exemplary character chemistry.

Like any good campaign, the heart of Honor Among Thieves lies with the party of mercurial miscreants. Chris Pine and Hugh Grant are clearly having the time of their lives with Grant especially leaning into the larger-than-life implications of a petty con artist in way over his head. Michelle Rodriguez is a rock both literally and figuratively, grounding the group with his minimal musings and instead chiming in when there’s a serious emotion to be had. Justice Smith and Sophie Lillis bring up the rear with confidence and Regé-Jean Page is the comic relief of the movie. In that, he’s the only one not being a comic.

Directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (directors of Game Night and writers of Spider-Man: Homecoming) are steady hands at the wheel. With the exception of some trick camerawork here and there, the focus is more on delivering spectacle than drama, a decision that complements and even strengthens the pacing and tone. While character arcs are rooted in very real and legitimate emotions, the film never strays too far away from the humour that makes everyone likeable yet still sympathetic. Same goes for the narrative. Dungeons & Dragons was always ripe for sequels, so the plot is less concerned about setting up a world (instead it treats everything as a given from the word go) and more about giving us reason to care.

By not attempting to go beyond the expectations of its existence, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves boasts strength in its execution. It is hopefully the start of a new and fun theatrical run of films that has the bonus of introducing audiences to roleplaying, to seeing themselves as the plucky band of heroes/thieves/overpowered paladins that bet everything on the roll of the dice (there are some scenes where you can see the characters metaphorically roll a ‘Nat 1’) and end up enjoying the experience regardless of the outcome.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is now in South African cinemas.

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures and eOne.

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