Have you ever played Dungeons and Dragons? If not, odds are you know someone who has, and even stronger odds that you know someone who adores it. The beloved table-top game, which was introduced nearly 50 years ago, is just that: beloved — which is why it might be puzzling that it took so many years for the property to be adapted for the screen. After the bomb that was the 2000 adaptation, it seemed like we might never explore the worlds of D&D in cinemas again. But good things take time, and that adage has never seemed more true than in the face of “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” the fantasy-comedy that brings the world of the game (at least one version of it) to audiences in a way they’ve never experienced before.
For those who don’t know, the tabletop game is played by having the leader of the game, known as the Dungeon Master, write a quest for the group that they will then play out using a 20-sided die. So every D&D bout is different, and “Honor Among Thieves” is easily one of the best campaigns ever written for the game. The third directorial collaboration from “Game Night” filmmakers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein is a magical epic with a completely committed cast who make meals of the comedy and action alike — and you will fall head over heels for it.
“Dungeons and Dragons” follows Chris Pine’s Edgin the Bard, an imprisoned thief who will do whatever it takes to reunite with his daughter, Kira (Chloe Coleman), and right his wrongs in the only way he knows how: with a crafty plan. With the help of his best friend and fellow bandit Holga the Barbarian (Michelle Rodriguez), they enlist an old face from their looting days, the mediocre yet spirited sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith), and a bristly yet skilled druid named Doric (Sophia Lillis) to avenge their last heist gone wrong and stop the evil Red Wizards from taking over a beloved city, and in turn, their world.
There’s no two ways about it: The film is a tried and true fantasy-action odyssey that is as approachable to folks who know next to nothing about the game as it is gratifying for fans.
The incredible cold open that sets the scene brings the laughs and puts the audience in a position to truly care about the film’s main players is an astonishing collaboration of many elements that come together to make cinema cinema: top-notch acting from the leads to the secondary players, skilled directing, a smart script from Daley and Goldstein as well as their co-writer Michael Gilio, and stunning CGI work combined with practical effects.
It takes effort to truly hook an audience, especially one where some may not be as familiar with the source materials as others. There’s no denying that “Dungeons and Dragons” grabs viewers by the collar and drags them along for the ride, but it’s clear from the onset that the adventure is more than worth your time. All of those key elements that define the opening sequence carry through to the film’s final moments, giving us non-stop laughs, cheer-worthy action sequences, and some massive memorable obstacles that feel like a series of bosses to beat in a great video game.
The cast has impeccable chemistry overall, from the way our main four heroes communicate to Edgin’s daughter’s deep connection with Holga. Not only does the audience become invested in seeing them attain their relic and live to tell the tale, they become invested in the bonds they build and shape with one another throughout the quest. Through this chemistry, each individual also shines in their own spotlights. This is Pine at his funniest, and his performance is the key to reminding audiences that fantasy doesn’t always need to be so serious. You can tell how much he’s enjoying himself with every quippy one-liner or hilarious observation, and it breathes life into the foundations of this film.
Speaking of Pine, his dark horse BFF duo with Rodriguez is so unexpected, but by the end of the movie, it’s hard not to wonder how they haven’t been cast opposite one another before. There’s a great level of patience, understanding, and care between Edgin and Holga that underscores the entire film, and that starts with their connection as actors. If studios don’t take note and pair them up for more action-comedies, they’re leaving a ton of money (and heart) on the table. As for the supporting cast, Lillis brings the smarts and a sense of sleekness to the screen. She is the brains of the operation, and her take-no-crap attitude positions her seamlessly as the straight man of the movie. Smith is the perfect balance of sweet, funny, and relatable, and it feels like this film will finally catapult his career to the heights he deserves.
Hugh Grant is the villain you never knew you needed; It’s rare to see him as such a deplorable, backstabbing little twerp of a man, but it’s incredibly welcomed after years of watching him as a leading romance and conventional comedy guy. He’s been doing more villainous roles over the last few years (“Paddington 2” is a highlight) and they suit him well, especially ones like this with room for him to flex his well-known comedic prowess. Not to be forgotten — not by a long shot — “Bridgerton” breakout Rege Jean Page steals the show. He’s a picture perfect paladin, embodying the character type so well it feels like he’s the one all the rest have been modeled after for the last 50 years.
Narratively, the film is nearly a textbook Hero’s Journey tale, to borrow from the late great Joseph Campbell. There’s a reason why we love and connect with stories of resilience and honor; we hope to see ourselves shining back at us in the mirror of the television or cinema screen. The heroes of this film, with their varied abilities and powers, are just as much us as we are them.
The film’s spirit is full of heart, and love is at the core of most character decisions within it, from the relic quest that got Edgin and Holga imprisoned in the first place to their reasons for retreating back into the thievery and trickster game. With an emotional core it wears on its sleeve, it’s no surprise that the finished product of “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is extremely accessible and enticing for non-fans right from the jump, while also satisfying hardcore devotees of the game.
If that’s not a near-perfect roll of the D&D die, I don’t know what is.
“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival and opens in theaters on March 31.