If the first blockbuster (usually released during the Easter season) is good, then the rest of the year will have some decent films to enjoy. Last year, we had Ambulance and Morbius, and, as we know, the movie last year wasn’t up to much of a high standard. Going into Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, I kept my fingers crossed that this would be a worthwhile experience that could promise a better year than last. Thankfully, this adaptation of the role-playing game is a blast. There’s hope for the rest of the year, then.
Edgin is a former law enforcer who turned his back on his career after the death of his wife. Escaping from prison after a bungled robbery, he and his companion, the warrior Holga, discover that their former partner, Forge, not only set them up but stole the one thing Edgin needed, a tablet that could bring his wife back to life. Having teamed up with a powerful Red Witch, Edgin and Holga must form a band to infiltrate Forge’s castle and retrieve what is rightly theirs. With the help of Simon, a failed sorcerer and Droic, a shape-shifting druid, this unlikely band go head-on with the conman and his army.
Before I start, I knew next to nothing about the popular role-playing game. Going in, I was nervous that there would be nods and winks to those who spent hours taking on the characters and situations. I need not have been afraid because co-writers and directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein have hit the right balance; plenty of references to the game, but never forget some come to the film with little knowledge. Instead, they have banded these two audiences together to bring a fantasy adventure brimming with a dizzy mix of action, excitement and, more importantly, humour.
The film has the dazzling look of a fully-fledged member of the fantasy realm, with creatures and monsters around every corner, swordplay and magic used as weaponry and enough set pieces for those looking for the spectacle to enjoy themselves. The co-writers of one of my favourite comedies of recent years, Game Night, add the same sparkle they did with the Jason Bateman/Rachel McAdams comedy of 2018. I am always confused with fantasy films and their over-complicated character names and world-building, but even this has been made more accessible by having creatures like owlbear (a mix of an owl with a bear) and Simon.
These mismatched characters’ journeys are made even more enjoyable by giving them depth and backstories. We understand where each of these people is coming from. Edgin is a widower who wants his wife back and the love of a daughter who was taken in by the villain and wants to win back her affection. A female warrior whose previous life was married to a much smaller and meeker man (played by a neat cameo performance from a massive star), who can beat down any man with either a fist or a weapon, a failed sorcerer with a wicked line in sarcasm and a druid who hates humans but can transform into any creature (one scene follows her escape, changing from one animal to another).
There are flaws in this film; the special effects are sometimes less than exceptional at 2 hours and 14 minutes. In that case, it’s a tad too long and has a baggy beginning where the exposition is, but these are minimal faults in a film that packs more punch than most blockbusters do and has humour that, for most of the time, delivers. Take heed, Thor: Love and Thunder is how you do it. One part Monty Python (a scene in a graveyard with the dead coming back to life is pure Python), one part The Princess Bride with sprinkles of Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, and some edgier modern wit, and does keep the attention throughout.
The cast is as bizarre as the characters are. Chris Pine as Edgin is the most Chris Pine-est he has ever been. With a glint in his eye and a one-liner for all occasions, he’s just brimming with likeability. Michelle Rodriguez, usually seen as Vin Deisel’s sidekick in the Fast & Furious films, is allowed room to prove she’s capable as an action star and funny. Justice Smith is a delight as Simon, while Sophia Lillis, so good in It, is cracking as Doric. From Netflix’s Bridgerton, Rege-Jean Page is a humourless soldier who helps the team, and is as smooth as silk, and Hugh Grant, playing another cad as Forge, chews up the green screen backgrounds each time he appears.
I loved spending time with this ragtag group and their adventures. Dungeons and Dragons: Honours Among Thieves is a perfect popcorn blockbuster with plenty to like, plenty to get excited about and plenty of decent laughs. It is a promising start to the year, and I hope it continues.
4 out of 5.
Directors: John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
Starring: Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Justice Smith, Rege-Jean Page, Sophia Lillis, Hugh Grant, Chloe Coleman, Daisy Head
Written by: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein, (also story) Michael Gilio, and (story) Chris McKay
Running Time: 134 mins
Release date: 31st March 2023