DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES – Review
So, it appears that the Spring of 2023 may just be recalled as the season of big movies based on toys (I know BARBIE is still several months away). Well, maybe not toys as much as games. The TETRIS movie is streaming, and that plumbing duo returns next week, but this new/reboot flick harkens back to those pre-video game olden days. It’s not based on a board game (the box office dud BATTLESHIP may prevent another one for a while), but rather the “in-between” era. This is based on the big role-playing game juggernaut that swept the nation about 40 or so years ago. Sure there was a big studio adaptation way back in 2000 and a couple of minor sequels followed. Ah, but now it’s time to start fresh with an all-star cast to “roll the dice” for DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES.
The saga actually starts in the prison known as Revel’s End where an escape occurs during a meeting of the pardon review judges. This happens after we hear the tale of the “bard” Edgin (Chris Pine) who fell from grace as a member of the noble spies, the Harpers when his beloved wife was slain by the feared and despised Red Wizards. Luckily he befriends an exiled barbarian, Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) who helps him raise his baby daughter Kira. Soon the duo becomes part of an honorable (no-killing) band of thieves that includes sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith), rogue Forge (High Grant), and his mystic partner Sofina (Daisy Head). Edgin wants no part of a dangerous heist planned by Forge until word leaks out that part of the treasure is a resurrection tablet that would bring back Edgin’s wife. This leads to his and Holga’s capture, imprisonment, and now escape and on the run. The duo journeys to Neverwinter where Forge has been elected the land’s Lord and is raising teenage Kira (Chloe Coleman) with Sofina’s help. Ah, but Forge has poisoned Kira against her dad, then arranges for the duo’s demise. The two evade the chopping axe and dash away to form a new band to return to Neverwinter and take the riches (including that tablet) from Forge’s magically fortified vault. Edgin and Holga reunite with Simon who suggests that they enlist his former paramour, the Druid Doric (Sophia Lillis) for the quest. Ah, but the vault’s spell is too powerful and Simon needs a device to open it. It is an enchanted helmet. With the help of the paladin Xenk (Rege-Jean Page), they retrieve it. But even with this in hand, can this motley crew survive the forces of Neverwinter before the deadly masterplan of Forge and Sofina dooms Kira and all of the realm’s denizens?
And, just who should be considered the “leader” of this earlier mentioned “all-star” cast (though his character would insist on “planner”)? Probably the former Captain Kirk and Amazon beau, Pine as the lovable scoundrel (much like Han Solo), Edgin. Pine projects the needed amount of “daring do” and a big helping of knowing snark, though it’s tempered with Edgin’s deep loss. He’s a thief who has been robbed of his soulmate, but he won’t lose the child born of their love. Pine’s Edgin makes a good comic team with Rodriguez’s often stoic sullen Holga. It’s a splendid physical performance as her body language is close to a fierce coiled animal, one that strikes out with swift, deadly force when pushed. Oddly Rodriguez also gives her a nurturing tenderness as she becomes a big sister/mentor to Kira and later as she is haunted by her own lost love (fabulous cameo alert). Also balancing the comic and heroic is Smith as the often overwhelmed Simon, whose wizardry needs a big boost of confidence, as he tempers expectations (“Magic has its limits!!”). It doesn’t help that his “big romantic crush” is fighting alongside him. Lillis as the equally gifted Doric is more bold and brave, and appears a bit puzzled and charmed by Simon’s flirtation, while she puts up a stern, unyielding front. Though he joins the team briefly, Page seems to be having a lot of fun skewering his heroic heartthrob image as the “too-noble-to-be-true” Xenk (here’s a TV “deep dive as he was almost a swashbuckler take on Tom Sellek’s Lance White on the mush-loved “The Rockford Files”) who is a constant thorn in Edgin’s side. Oh, but he’s not having as much fun as Grant whose Forge always has a twinkle in his crafty eyes as pulls a con on everyone in sight. Who knew that Mr. 90’s Romcom” would age into such an engaging villain? He’s aided by Head as the creepy, sinister Sofina and the assured Coleman as the conflicted confused Kira.
Well, will you be completely lost if you’ve never seen the previous films, the 80s CBS Saturday morning cartoon (look for a knowing nod to it), or even picked up the multi-sided dice? If you’re like me, then not at all. Happily, this is a spirited and imaginative fast-paced all-ages ride that blends more bits of humor with the atmosphere of the LOTR franchise, though it’s blessed with brevity. That may be largely due to the creative duo behind the camera, who also wrote the screenplay from the story by Chris McKay and Michael Gillio. After some terrific recent movie comedies (GAME NIGHT deserved better at the box office), Johnathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (who is also a talented actor, having played the D&D-loving Sam Weir in the adored one-season TV wonder “Freaks and Geeks”) prove quite adept with fantasy adventure (did I mention they worked on the script to SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING), by delivering a witty grand experience, an unexpected charmer. Now there are superb action sequences galore, but some of the comedy bits are just as memorable (all I’ll say is “quizzing corpses”). Really, it didn’t have to be this good, but you’ll be happy it is. One thing that gave me a big smile was the great use of “practical effects”. In most fantasy/SF flicks today, every weird creature is made of pixels. For this, many life-sized creature suits and masks were made by skilled craftsmen and expert puppeteers (much like in the 1980s when the first Conan film started a “B-movie” boom). Mind you, there’s plenty of CGI, but it’s done with style and never detracts. Doric is an expert shapeshifter who uses this gift to spy on the baddies in an amazing chase sequence (she’s also a fearsome fun “owl-bear”). The costumes are eye-popping the locations are lovely. If they can keep up this level of quality, then let’s hope that a new family film franchise is launched by the entrancing DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES. Huzzah!
3.5 Out of 4
DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES is now playing in theatres everywhere