by Ed Fortune
Tabletop Roleplaying games like Dungeon & Dragons are a unique sort of entertainment. Part game and part collaborative storytelling exercise, trying to convert the silly and intimate fun of a bunch of adventurers exploring dungeons and fighting dragons into a movie has been something that has stumped many. Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves captures the sheer fun of immersing oneself in a wildly imaginative fantasy world and having an adventure.
Like any good tabletop game, this movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, and yet brings the viewer into the living breathing world of the Forgotten Realms. At its heart, this is a heist movie along the lines of the Ocean’s or Fast & Furious franchises, so much so that it opens in a prison, albeit one in a frozen northern hellscape. Here we meet Chris Pine’s bard, Edgin, a man who just wants to right some wrongs and get his family back together. He’s assisted by Michelle Rodriguez’s Holga, who is as strong as an ox. Venturing forth into the adventure zone, we learn about their tragic and compelling backstory through the power of flashback.
Elgin and Holga’s reunion with the kid is cut short due to the machinations of Hugh Grant’s criminal creep, Forge. Grant has the most critical role of any popcorn-munching fantasy adventure movie; he’s the scenery-chewing bad guy and is gloriously shifty throughout. Forge is of course assisted by sinister wizards and a variety of horrors.
One refreshing note is that the central motivation here is family. Cliched as that is (and boy does this movie like its tropes), Chris Pine’s hero strives to reconnect with his daughter, but is thwarted by the over-the-top machinations of Forge, so at times it’s more dungeons and daddies than it is Dungeons and Dragons. On that note, the dragons themselves are fab as are all the many, many monsters. The effects are just on the right side of stunning, without making the movie just about the spectacle (a lesson Hasbro has seemingly learned from the Transformers movies). This really is intended to be big-screen fun for everyone and you really want to be front and centre when the fireballs and magic spells fill the cinema.
Of course, our heroes hatch a plan to humiliate Forge, steal a lot of money, and win back the affection of Elgin’s daughter. Conveniently, Forge has invited some high rollers for a spot of gambling, and thus the planning of the heist begins. We hook up with Simon, a sorcerer, played by Justice Smith, who portrays the underdog magic user in a fun and compelling way. Sophia Lillis is also stunning and charming as the Druid Doric.
Because this is a D&D movie, that plan spirals rapidly out control as the characters keep running into problems. For the heist to work, they need a MacGuffin, so after a few false starts, it’s questing time again. Enter Regé-Jean Page’s mysterious Xenk, who somehow plays into both heist movie tropes and the classic D&D cliches of the Dungeon Master’s favourite NPC. He’s brilliantly funny, stunning in all the right ways, and simply a joy throughout.
As you’d expect for a movie based on a hugely popular game, there’s a pretty high level of self-promotion/reference to the wider world of D&D (and all its marketable spin-off products), but Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves takes this to another dimension. Twenty percent of the feature seems dedicated to blending all the cool-sounding places, monsters, people, and things seamlessly into the narrative. This works because the story is character driven and focused, and the cast shine all the way. It feels like the movie was a joy to make and every moment of laughter and excitement has been captured for our viewing pleasure.
The attention to detail in this very light and fun movie is remarkable. From the set locations (including some of the prettiest parts of the UK and Northern Ireland), to the casting, to the little touches and name drops, this a movie made with love for the worlds of D&D.
If you’re a D&D fan you must see this film; and even if you aren’t, this is an incredible big-screen experience for everyone (except maybe folk who take life a little too seriously). It’s filled with a dragon’s hoard of easter eggs for the fans, but this is done in such a way that if you’ve never heard of Dungeons and Dragons you’ll still get drawn into this action movie spectacular. If you’ve never gotten why people find Dungeons and Dragons so much fun, this movie might finally convince you to grab some dice and some friends. It’s dumb fun throughout and we sincerely believe that this is the start of a gloriously fun franchise!
DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOUR AMONG THIEVES rolls into cinemas on March 31st