The Movie Waffler New to VOD - DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOUR AMONG THIEVES | The Movie Waffler


Adaptation of the fantasy table-top game.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley

Starring: Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Chloe Coleman, Daisy Head, Hugh Grant

Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves poster

Launched in the 1970s amid that decade's post-hippy fad for all things of a fantastical nature, table-top role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons gained much attention in the 1980s, largely due to negative publicity that ridiculously linked the game to the era's "Satanic Panic." An episode of the 1980s set TV show Freaks and Geeks revolved around its "geeks" playing the game, and now that show's star, John Francis Daley, has delivered a big screen, big budget adaptation of the game with co-director Jonathan Goldstein, one which takes its cues not just from the fantasy films of the 1980s, but also Big Trouble in Little China. It gently mocks the tropes of the fantasy genre, but it's also in tune with those tropes and exploits them in a way that is often uniquely inventive.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves review

While the game has an established canon and lore with various spinoff books, by its nature it allows the player the freedom to create their own heroes, something Daley, Goldstein and co-writer Michael Gilio take advantage of. Chris Pine's thief Edgin is a Jack Burton figure, smooth talking but largely incompetent. Lucky for him he has a tough, streetwise companion in the barbarian Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) to bail him out of trouble. When we find the pair first they're in hot water however, having spent two years in a remote prison. In the first of several ways the film finds to have fun with the notion of clunky exposition and backstories, Edgin uses a parole hearing as a sort of "Last time on Dungeons & Dragons," filling the audience in on how his wife was killed by a vengeful Red Wizard, leaving he and Holga to raise his daughter, Kira (Chloe Coleman). Far from a model father, Edgin continued his thieving ways - accompanied by a young sorcerer, Simon (Justice Smith), and an aging con-man, Forge (Hugh Grant) – until he was finally brought to justice.

Escaping from their prison, Edgin and Holga make their way to Neverwinter, a kingdom now ruled by Forge with the aid of Sofina (Daisy Head), a powerful Red Wizard. Forge has become a father figure to Kira, and he lies to the child when he has Edgin and Holga sent for execution. Escaping Neverwinter, our heroes reteam with Simon and enlist a shapeshifter, Doric (Sophia Lillis), to plot a means of getting Kira back and bringing Edgin's dead wife back to life.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves review

The resulting action is something like a Shrek movie, but without any of that franchise's annoying concessions to modern pop culture. Its humour is of a more vintage variety, with roots in the films of Bob Hope. It seems at first that Pine is set to be the Hope figure, the hapless hero who continually mocks the premise, but the movie oddly sidelines him at certain points, as though some scenes were written by a screenwriter who wasn't fully in on the joke. When he's allowed to take certain stage Pine is a surprisingly good comic lead, with the film taking its cues from the aforementioned Big Trouble in Little China in taking a handsome movie star and having him act the clown. It's no surprise that the film is at its funniest whenever Grant is on screen, as he channels the bumbling nature of former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to great effect. Indeed, one gag involving Forge being raised on a column to a height he finds disorienting seems directly inspired by the sort of misguided hijinks Johnson would find himself in on more than one occasion throughout his reign.

Had the movie solely relied on mocking its genre it would likely have come off as irritating, but Daley and Goldstein embrace the possibilities of fantasy filmmaking in a way few others have recently. There are some surprisingly visually inventive set-pieces that show the filmmakers have put some effort into this. A major gripe I have with the last couple of decades' wave of superhero movies is that they almost never do anything interesting with their heroes' superpowers. Not so here, as the concept of magic is mined to striking effect at times. There's a chase sequence involving Lillis's shapeshifter that uses that conceit to pull off the sort of visual gags not seen since the heyday of Scooby Doo (there's one odd moment however where the heroes face an obstacle that could have easily been resolved by Doric morphing into a bird – perhaps a sly nod to the famous plothole in The Lord of the Rings?). A device known as a "Hither and Tither" portal plays into an extravagant sequence that delivers a clever fantasy riff on a stagecoach heist. A climactic chase through a maze recalls classic video games in a way few actual video game adaptations have managed. Supplementing its greenscreen with location shoots in the convincingly fantastical landscapes of Iceland and Northern Ireland gives it a production value missing from its comic book counterparts.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves review

In terms of wit and inventiveness, Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves has a lot going for it. Sadly, there's one issue it can't surmount, and that's modern Hollywood's insistence on bloated running times. At 90 minutes, this could have been a rip-roaring blast, but at 135 it sags in too many points, and like many fantasy movies, has a couple too many climaxes. The suits in Hollywood probably see this as a way of convincing audiences they're getting more bang for their buck, but it's counter-intuitive. A 7" pizza with 10 slices of pepperoni makes for good value, but a 12" pizza with 10 slices of pepperoni, not so much. In this way, Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves does replicate the experience of playing a table-top game. It's great fun for 90 minutes until your character dies and you're left waiting around while your friends continue having fun without you for another hour.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves
 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

2023 movie reviews