Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves review – Chris Pine leads a bright, frivolous and nerdy adaptation
A fantasy tabletop game in which a self-proclaimed “Dungeon Master” weaves together stories of derring-do – and enables teams of competitors to roleplay as anything from elves to gnomes to half-orcs – Dungeons & Dragons was once pretty much the nerdiest thing out there. It was niche, though, at least compared to the comic-book movies that later propelled geek culture into the mainstream. Still, it’s surprising that Hollywood’s taken so long to dip its toes back into its frivolous, high-fantasy waters, following a series of somewhat chintzy film adaptations in the early 2000s.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves is reminiscent of the films Hollywood used to make – all its Princess Brides, Labyrinths, and Willows – without ever regressing into overt nostalgia. And, for the benefit of said nerds, it’s a near-perfect invocation of what it feels like to while away the evening rolling dice, forging attack plans, and putting on silly voices.
As a game, Dungeons & Dragons is all about balance. A strong team of players will know how to account for individual strengths and weaknesses; Honour Among Thieves, in turn, has found itself a cast capable of the necessary humour, sincerity, and action. Chris Pine, as bard Edgin Darvis, brings the same knavish charm that’s made him such a welcome presence in the likes of Into the Woods and Wonder Woman. The film, though, for all its loving application of familiar tropes, does regrettably suffer from “dead wife syndrome” – he’s a single dad, caring for Kira (Chloe Coleman) ever since her mother was tragically slain by mysterious enemies.
But, in the film’s defence, this stereotypical dynamic is upended by the presence of Edgin’s loyal barbarian compatriot Holga, played by Michelle Rodriguez. It’s a role that draws from the actor’s ability to soften hard edges with unexpected tenderness. Together, the three of them offer a new perspective on unconventional families. After a foiled heist, Kira ends up in the care of Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant, having a grand old time), who’s convinced her that she’s been abandoned by her careless and materialistic father. It’s down to Edgin to expose Forge’s lies, and track down the magical object that might just reunite his family.
Directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley are smart to recognise that many of D&D’s key mechanics – establish team, acquire object, defeat villain – are shared with the heist genre, and their film moves at a snappy clip that could almost be borrowed directly from Ocean’s Eleven. Edgin assembles his team: a sorcerer with low self-esteem (Justice Smith), a shape-shifting druid with trust issues (Sophia Lillis), and a high-minded paladin who strictly doesn’t “traffic in colloquialism” (Regé-Jean Page). These are all broad archetypes, certainly, but the roles are so well cast that there’s never a sense that anyone has to force their performance.
Those who know their mimics from their owlbears won’t have much to complain about, but neither does Honour Among Thieves cater exclusively to the hardcore set. That’s exactly how it should be. D&D’s cultural mileage has little to do with the specifics of any single universe – the game has its rules and codes, but players are actively encouraged to create their own characters and write their own adventures. All D&D is, really, is a narrative tool that empowers people to become storytellers. There’s a real joy and sense of imagination to it that’s also permeated the bright, busy world of Honour Among Thieves, inhabited as it is by chatty corpses, managerial eagles, and stumpy but ferocious dragons. In a blockbuster landscape that’s become depressingly monotonous, it’s a blast of fresh air straight from a spellcaster’s staff.
Dir: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley. Starring: Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Hugh Grant. 12, 134 minutes.
‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves’ is in cinemas from 31 March