June 2, 2023
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Life & Culture

Review: ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ film scores winning hand

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Lionsgate Films

A core appeal of the phenomenally popular tabletop role-playing game “Dungeons & Dragons” has always been that it gives players the ability to immerse themselves in the type of world that they have only dreamt or read about. Whether a viewer is five months into their latest campaign or they have never before picked up a 20-sided dice, “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” captures the magic and fun of what makes D&D and the fantasy genre special.

“Honor Among Thieves” places the viewer in the middle of its story rather than at the very beginning. Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine) and his companion, Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez), are imprisoned in an arctic landscape after a heist goes wrong. Upon their escape, the two set out on a quest to assemble a team of adventurers to rescue Edgin’s daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) from Forge (Hugh Grant), a treacherous con artist, and Sofina (Daisy Head), a member of the malevolent red wizards.

Thankfully, “Honor Among Thieves” does not take itself too seriously. Rather than trying and failing to make the next big fantasy epic a la “Lord of the Rings like the failed 2000 film adaptation did, it chooses to toe a much more comedic line. John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the two filmmakers behind the criminally underrated comedy “Game Night” (2018), use existing fantasy archetypes known most notably to D&D to create a heartfelt and, importantly, hilarious fantasy adventure that anyone can enjoy.

The film’s style of self-aware humor is one of many comparisons that can be made between it and films produced by Marvel Studios. While this may sound like a slight on “Honor Among Thieves,” it is quite the opposite. The light-hearted tone and dynamic underdog characters fit the story well, as do the actors who portray them.

Pine is more charismatic than ever and his self-deprecating brand of humor fits some of Edgin’s character traits perfectly. Whenever one of the charming thief’s many plans goes wrong, he can always be counted on to nail a comedic one-liner that makes light of the dire situation the characters may be in.

Rodriguez is a highlight in the film as well. Whenever Holga is given free rein to wreak havoc on squads of soldiers and knights, Rodriguez powerfully sells the berserker action of her barbarian character. In lighter character-building moments, she shines as well, showcasing Holga’s softer side — especially when Kira is involved.

The wider supporting cast is just as strong. Xenk Yendar (Regé-Jean Page), a paladin who aids the team in a small portion of their adventure, is a standout. His lack of understanding when it comes to metaphors and colloquialisms is very reminiscent of the personality trait held by Drax from the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films.

Another Marvel comparison can be made with Doric (Sophia Lillis), a druid who has the power to transform into creatures, from a hulking owlbear to a tiny, insignificant fly. Daley and Goldstein play with this power cleverly in an exciting sequence that sees Doric trying to escape a castle without being caught by Sofina or any guards.

The creativity in the action set pieces and humor are the film’s main draws for those unfamiliar with D&D as a property. One outstanding sequence in particular, which sees the team reviving fallen soldiers to ask them questions about where they can find a relic, will have viewers roaring with laughter. One of the most creative action sequences takes place in the third act and sees the team attempting to survive a labyrinthian gladiatorial battle against a ferocious beast.

Unfortunately, both of the “Honor Among Thieves”’ villains are not nearly as interesting as the heroes. While Grant is at least humorous like Forge, Sofina completely lacks any personality. Although she is threatening, her end goal is obnoxiously unoriginal.

“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is a remarkably fun time. It offers a grand adventure that celebrates fantasy through its clever world-building, unlikely heroic characters and memorable creatures. Viewers will most likely be clamoring for more films set within this world once they leave the film. While it does not completely land a natural 20, it comes extremely close.

Evan Miller can be reached at emiller11@ithaca.edu