‘Dungeons and Dragons’ Scores A Hit
You don’t have to be a plus-three magic user to enjoy this goofy adaptation of the fantasy role-playing game
Maybe the nerdiest movie in an era of extremely nerdy movies, Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a remarkably successful adaptation of the fantasy role-playing game that was once the realm of dorks only, but now has gone completely mainstream. D&D would seem to be a tough property to successfully turn into a movie, since it doesn’t have any actual characters, only character types, and has a freeform narrative structure. But writers Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, and Michael Gilio lean into that vibe rather than shy away from it. Honor Among Thieves feels like you’re following a bunch of random characters, constructed from rough materials, as they embark on wacky fantasy quests that have no clear beginning and end. I kept expecting the camera to pull back and reveal modern-day real-life versions of the actors rolling die and eating snacks. But the movie never goes that meta. It just assumes that the goofy world of Dungeons and Dragons is real.
DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Michael Gilio
Starring: Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé Jean-Page, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Hugh Grant
Running time: 134 min
The movie stars a quip-heavy Chris Pine as a “Harper”, who is not a contributor to a left-wing magazine but rather a kind of do-gooder spy. But Harpers are broke, and he runs afoul of some bad wizards who kill his wife after he steals some of her gold. This all happens in the prologue, and the movie is basically the story of his attempts to get back to ground zero. Pine, whose character is named “Ed,” breezes through this role, exuding movie-star charisma. Michelle Rodriguez is his tough-guy sidekick, a thief who kicks all kinds of ass, and she’s tough, hilarious, and occasionally vulnerable.
Also excellent is Regé Jean-Page, the Duke from Bridgerton, playing a straight-edge Paladin who speaks in lofty platitudes and always does the right thing. And let’s not forget Hugh Grant, as a ridiculously shifty conman, who doesn’t waste his paycheck and never plays down to his material, even if it’s beneath him. Grant has found a late-career resurgence playing fun genre roles, and this particular one is his franchise-maker.
Pine’s crew also includes a callow sorcerer played by Justice Smith and a shape-shifting girl with horns on her head, played by Sophia Lillis. And he has a daughter who can turn invisible when the situation calls for it. None of these kids are particularly magnetic, but they’re cute enough, and they do all the whiz-bang stuff while the grownups bicker and kick one another around.
There are crypts and mazes and graveyards and a hilariously fat dragon. The characters drink mead and eat turkey legs. Many popular D&D monsters make appearances, including the famously toxic gelatinous cube. The script moves along formulaically but is never dull, and the effects are fun, seamless, and immersive. It’s not even remotely cringey, which is kind of a miracle given that these kinds of genre pics almost always date badly immediately upon viewing. In the era of Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, where every fantasy moment is full of portent and ominousness, the Dungeons and Dragons movie instead makes the bold statement that these kinds of worlds can be fun and stupid. This is what D&D fans have been trying to tell us all along. There’s no reason to take it all so seriously. After all, it’s just a game.