Dungeons & Dragons is such a reliably popular property that it is a surprise no one has been able to successfully create a movie franchise based off of it. A table-top role-playing game, books and videogames have all taken off. It has been a household name for a long time, yet the only movie adaptation was an action/fantasy bomb from 2000 (which then inexplicably spawned two direct-to-DVD sequels).
Well, now that action, fantasy and sci-fi blockbusters are pretty much the only genres bringing audiences to theaters, Hasbro has decided to try again with the action/fantasy/comedy Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Instead of making a straight fantasy movie, the strategy this time is to mix the D&D mythology with the durable Marvel formula to produce something very familiar out of a different potentially valuable IP.
I’m not at all knowledgeable about the specifics of D&D. My only real exposure to it is the first movie, which I saw over two decades ago and greatly disliked. So, I cannot comment on faithfulness or references to the various source materials. Therefore, I am exclusively judging it on its own merits as an amiable, something for everyone, big-budget crowd-pleaser. It’s basically Guardians of the Galaxy, minus space, plus wizards and magic and stuff. It is the usual motley group of mismatched anti-heroes, cracking wise as they bumble toward saving the world from a horrific threat. The cast is likable enough, the plot is nonsense, though easy enough to follow, and the screenplay has a few decent jokes.
The filmmakers (it has been directed/cowritten by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein) are responsible for Horrible Bosses, Spiderman: Homecoming and Game Night, thus I actually expected this to be funnier. The jokes are, well, formulaic, reminiscent of ideas and concepts that the MCU has gotten a lot of mileage out of. They are mostly running gags related to the one or two traits each character has been given. Some of them still land, but the movie focuses a lot more on derivative plot elements. If you are looking for something fresh, that feels even a little bit unique to its world, you won’t find that here. However, if you are looking for a Dungeons & Dragons-themed spin on another major franchise, this is okay.
Thief Edgin and warrior Holga get out of prison after two years, seeking to reunite with Edgin’s daughter, Kira. When they are double-crossed by a conman, they recruit the help of a sorcerer and a shapeshifter to get Kira back and defeat a powerful, evil, wizard.
Honor Among Thieves is a fairly leisurely 126 minutes (plus a mid-credits scene) that is in no real hurry to get anywhere. It takes time for banter, lengthy battles and several backstory speeches that somehow add very little to the characters’ personalities.
The actors are leaned on pretty heavily to establish the stereotypes quickly. The result is kind of a mixed bag. Chris Pine is charming as the rogue-ish Edgin; the type of guy who can talk his friends into journeying with him into certain doom for a good cause. Michelle Rodriguez does what she can with some lame dialogue as his loyal sidekick Holga, who is the muscle of the group. Justice Smith is mildly amusing as Simon, a sorcerer with extremely low self-esteem. Sophia Lillis, as the druid Doric, has a lot of potential, but is mostly used as a plot device (on the positive side, she is the subject of a cool chase scene). Hugh Grant, as the devious Forge, is entirely wasted.
The studio has definitely played it safe with Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. They stuff the dungeons, ampersands, dragons, honor and thieves into a proven formula and hope it will be enough to lure people to the theater and launch a money-making series. For the consumers that do show up for it, it is a decent diversion.
The formula is used consistently because it has worked so often. It works at approximately 65% capacity here. If you are just looking to turn your brain off, eat some popcorn and enjoy a slice of cinematic comfort food, this should do the trick. It may not leave you actively hoping for a return trip to this world, though it should tide you over until Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 comes out in a month.
2¾ out of 5
Chris Pine as Edgin
Michelle Rodriguez as Holga
Justice Smith as Simon
Sophia Lillis as Doric
Regé-Jean Page as Xenk
Chloe Coleman as Kira
Hugh Grant as Forge
Daisy Head as Sofina
Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
Written by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley and Michael Gillio