Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Photo credits: Paramount Plus

Dungeons & Dragons. What more could be said about the role-playing game so popular, so influential, it has carved out a legacy not just in the history of games media but in modern history as well. The classic role-playing game has become part of the cultural zeitgeist in recent years, thanks to live-streaming shows like “Critical Role” as well as podcasting and YouTube. As such, it was only a matter of time before another attempt at a movie adaptation was made, and now years after the 2000 film that was laughably bad, we finally have “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.”

Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the plot follows Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine), a charismatic bard, and his gruff barbarian companion Helga (Michelle Rodriguez) as Edgin tries to find his daughter after being imprisoned for two years. He soon discovers that his former compatriot, Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant), caused his and Helga’s imprisonment two years ago and has now kidnapped his daughter, partnered himself with the red wizard Sofina (Daisy Head). From there, Edgin and Helga put together a team of unlikely heroes: Simon (Justice Smith), a sorcerer; Doric (Sophia Lillis), a shapeshifting druid; and Xenk (Regé-Jean Page), a comically serious paladin, and together, Edgin leads them in a daring heist to rescue his daughter and possibly save the land from a greater evil.

The greatest strength about “Honor Among Thieves” is that the narrative boldly sets itself apart from the likes of more dramatic fantasy settings like “The Witcher” and “Lord of the Rings.” The filmmakers are here to tell an exciting and comical story like how a typical game of D&D goes. The movie isn’t here to pull off an artistic expression or to argue something insightful about a hot-button issue, the movie is here to do the thing that all movies need to perform on some level: to have some fun! 

One of the arguments about “Honor Among Thieves” is whether it’s for fans of D&D or a wider movie-going audience, and while the film does certainly cater to the former, it is still made to be approachable enough for audiences who haven’t so much as looked at a character sheet. The film weaves in a plethora of locations, organizations and general terminology from the game, but this is all standard fare for any fantasy setting as it is just world-building and doesn’t detract from the viewing experience, meaning that both audiences should be satisfied.

The performances and mise-en-scene of the film in particular are quite eye-catching. The action sequences are performed well and are enjoyable to watch, with special mention going to Xenk and Helga’s fight scenes in particular as each kick, punch and sword swipe feel impactful as the camera gives the audience a front row seat to the brawls, displaying a clear talent from the filmmakers for this kind of choreography. Meanwhile the acting is carried by Chris Pine with his raw charm and clear fondness for the role; a performance shared equally by Hugh Grant who feels right at home as the central antagonist, and then both are complimented by Michelle Rodriguez who is able to display both stoic badassery but also a sensitive side as well. 

The mise-en-scene holds up the entire movie as the set-design, costuming and scene composition help the setting come alive, a certified improvement over the artificial feeling of the 2000 film. The world of the Forgotten Realms feels like a real place thanks to the filmmaker’s keen eye for detail, especially in the scenes involving Neverwinter and the character’s journey to find the Helm of Disjunction for the heist. It’s this level of detail that helps the movie stack up against its other fantasy contemporaries like “House of the Dragon.” 

However, the writing and the performances are also the movie’s weakest links at the same time. The writing in particular suffers from sub-par pacing, specifically during the film’s second act where the characters go to find the magical helm. It’s here that the movie slows down to do some more world-building, but at the same time trying to move the plot along to the location of the magical helm. Both of these conflicting focuses create a sense of pacing whiplash that really drags down the film as the second act fumbles the ball on what otherwise is an enjoyable story. 

While Chris Pine and Hugh Grant do perform a bang-up job, the rest of the cast’s performances fall a little flat. Regé-Jean Page, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis and Daisy Head are good actors, but their performances feel a little muted. This could be an issue with the plot centering around Pine’s character and not leaving enough screentime for the other characters, but at the same time neither are they compelling enough in their performances to be anything memorable.

“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” while shoddy around the edges, is still exactly the kind of adventure movie that we need more of in cinemas, and we all finally have a good D&D flick! 

Kelly Baker is an alumnus of West Chester University. 

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