Before we begin this review, we have a confession to make: we’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons. Like… ever. You may call this base treachery, demand our heads and possibly even ridicule us. We understand the frustration. But following the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, we certainly feel like we’ve been missing out. On what, though, we’re not so sure.
Within the first five minutes, it’s obvious that Honor Among Thieves isn’t taking itself seriously. At its core, this is a popcorn flick. At the behest of coming across as an apologist for B-tier films, Honor Among Thieves has heart, charm, comedic undertones, and a character roster that made it easy for both mega-fans of the OG game and ‘casuals’ to love. It’s not perfect, but neither is everything else. But as long as you roll with the punches, it’s hard to not find some level of enjoyment in Honor Among Thieves.
“Roll 5 to save your daughter”
Viewers are introduced to Edgin Darvis, an over-charismatic Bard played by the stellar Chris Pine, in the film’s opening minutes. He and the supporting lead of Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez), a motherly yet still brutal barbarian that’s tight with Edgin, set out to escape a prison somewhere in the Forgotten Realms and reunite with Edgin’s daughter. In a world where women shoulder the burden of action as often as men, the twist on the classic ‘damsel in distress’ trope makes the ensuing epic fantasy adventure easier to swallow.
However, we were left underwhelmed by the character of Holga as a whole. She’s arguably just as important a character as Edgin, though she doesn’t get much more to do other than grunt. But affectionately, for lack of a better word.
That doesn’t happen right away. Movie’s gotta movie, right? The duo is halted by the newly ‘elected’ Lord of Neverwinter, Forge Fitzwilliam (yes, that’s his name) who fills the role of villain for this tale. Forge is played by Hugh Grant, who portrays the silly Englishman we’ve come to know and love. From an audience perspective, it’s rather difficult to dislike Hugh Grant. This isn’t an issue for Daisy Head, who plays the Red Wizard Sofina, taking the heat off Grant as the ‘bigger bad’ of the film.
On a renewed adventure to save Edgin’s daughter, the duo soon becomes a foursome – complete with a druid by the name of Doric (Sophia Lillis) and a so-so sorcerer known as Simon Aumar (Justice Smith). Each offers up a convincing performance, though the show os stolen by Bridgerton’s own Regé-Jean Page’s short-lived appearance as a good-looking and charming paladin. Our only concern? He’s not present enough.
Keeping things interesting
The assembly of the gang now complete, it’s time to save Kira – tucked away in the castle of Neverwinter under the care of Forge. But wait! Before an attempt can even be made, several side-quests need to be completed first – something that felt very ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ despite never having played it. The crew must chase after lost objects of importance like some twisted version of the Harry Potter tale, side characters experience some much-needed development, and of course, some dragons need to be dealt with before the final hurdle is cleared.
We constantly expected the film to trip itself up as the story constantly added more for the characters to do. Thankfully, it never did. The pacing is excellent, with no scene overstaying its welcome. Each ‘main’ character gets time to grow at a pace that feels natural and earned by the time the climax rolls around. Except for poor Holga, sadly.
As the group traverses The Forgotten Realms, action is ever-present. Each character has a chance to shine, each bringing something to the table – reminiscent of a real role-playing RPG. Even Holga, the Barbarian, keeps things interesting with some excellent fight choreography – though we’d have liked to have seen her character pull more weight in both writing and action.
This fact is particularly noticeable during the film’s third act ‘portal’ scene. We won’t spoil what we mean, but the scene feels like it’s been pulled straight from a real-life D&D session. The crew uses their brains in a way that can only be rivalled by a real group of friends, desperately trying to think up some foolhardy plan that just might work.
Not without its gripes
The story holds together, no matter how many times it teeters on the edge of blandness. That isn’t to say it’s not without its faults. The biggest plotlines are usually predictable, with the same tropes you’ve seen throughout hundreds of fantasy epics cropping up. Often, the film goes meta, mocking the very trope it’s copying. It’s funny the first or second time, but not so much by the fifth.
Ultimately, our biggest gripe was the use of Daisy Head as the Red Wizard Sofia. We didn’t feel the movie needed a ‘bigger bad’ beyond Grant’s Forge, who’s established in the beginning and given room to breathe. His story ties in with Edgin’s goals – a goal that the audience is rooting for by the end of the first act. The same can’t be said for the Red Wizard whose storyline feels tacked on and underserving of the climax’s attention.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is out in theatres tomorrow, 31 March.
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Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a wholly fun, action-adventure film covering plenty of spells, monsters and tropes from the classic tabletop game. Every character - barring the Red Wizard - shines through with performances ranging from great to excellent. Overall, we were surprised of the direction this adaptation went, and are keen for a sequel (should it ever arrive).