First things first, I never played the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop role-playing game (TRPG) other than knowing its existence and had watched the previous movie adaptation twenty-three years ago. The 2000 version of the Dungeons & Dragons movie is a cinematic abomination of everything that went wrong from its awfully dated CGI to Jeremy Irons’ embarrassingly campy antagonist performance. The massive disappointment certainly discouraged me to ignore the two straight-to-video sequels that were released in 2005 and 2012.
The new version — Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves — sees Game Night directing duo John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein choose to start fresh by rebooting the franchise and turning it into a Guardians of the Galaxy version of a medieval fantasy adventure. The movie is packed with lots of comedy and I mean, lots of them that I initially worried might be veering off course to the point of becoming overly jokey. Thankfully, this isn’t the case as Daley and Goldstein did a largely splendid job combining a mix of highly-entertaining medieval fantasy and sardonic wits and at the heart of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is the well-developed character arcs and varied personalities.
But before I go in-depth with the review, here is what the movie is all about: We learn that Edgin (Chris Pine) and his best friend Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) are sharing a prison cell together. Apparently, their cause of imprisonment is the result of a botched heist that has to do with Sofina (Daisy Head), a red-clothed wizard of the Red Wizards of Thay. An opportunity arises when Edgin and Holga manage to escape the prison and from there, we see Edgin is eager to reunite with his daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman). One of his old partners, Forge (Hugh Grant) has been taking care of her but when Edgin finally meets him, he finds out that Forge is a betrayer and even made a deal with Sofina.
The fun begins when Edgin and Holga recruit their old ally, Simon the wizard (Justice Smith) and Doric the shapeshifting druid (Sophia Lillis). They also roped in Xenk the paladin (Regé-Jean Page) and together, they embark on a quest that includes everything from retrieving an all-important artefact to saving Kira and defeating both Folge and Sofina.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is an enjoyable cinematic ride from start to finish and while the movie’s over-two-hour runtime is spotty in some places, I have an overall great time watching it. The action is well-choreographed with enough verve minus the jittery camerawork and rapid-fire editing. In other words, you can see what’s going on while allowing you to immerse in its elaborate choreography. It also helps that the combination of digital and practical special effects from its fantastical setting to the dragons and other monsters and the wizards’ magic spells are visually stunning to look at. The movie is particularly notable for its cool long-take action set-piece revolving around Doric’s unique shapeshifting ability to morph into different animals.
The comedy mostly hits the mark such as the cemetery scene and another one where Chris Pine’s Edgin tries to distract the guards while playing his lute. We also see the characters love to mock each other with Regé-Jean Page stealing the show as the straight-faced paladin lacking a sense of irony. Think of him as Drax and you’ll get the idea of the way he plays his character. The cast is some of the most entertaining ensembles I’ve ever seen in 2023 so far and here, we have the typically charismatic Chris Pine as a smooth-talking thief and “planner” of sorts while Michelle Rodriguez’s Holga is more than just your familiar tough action-star performance that has been synonymous with her career as she proves to be adept in playing hilariously deadpan personality. Not to mention Pine and Rodriguez share memorable chemistry together. Both Justice Smith and Sophia Lillis deliver respectively strong support as Simon and Doric, and Hugh Grant excels in his cheeky antagonist turn as Forge.
Beyond the movie’s fun-filled adventure, Daley and Goldstein, who also co-written the screenplay alongside Michael Gilio manage to give the actors respective ample rooms to shine. For instance, Chris Pine’s Edgin may have been someone with questionable leadership who can’t be trusted due to his profession but beneath his wisecracking persona that is hard to take him seriously, he never gives up on trying to make things right. Among other characters is Justice Smith’s Simon, whose portrayal of a wizard is nothing more than a small-time magician lacking self-confidence but as the movie progresses, he eventually overcomes his fear to prove his worth.
A great entertainment not to be missed no matter if you are a Dungeons & Dragons fan or simply a casual audience with no knowledge of the game, and don’t forget to stick around for a mid-credits scene.