It’s never a sure thing to take something beloved by millions and turn it into a movie. Failed adaptations happen all of the time, but rarely do they fail as spectacularly as 2000’s Dungeons & Dragons, which captured none of the fun and energy of the legendary tabletop game. It was so bad, it took more than two decades for anyone to dare try that again for fearing of messing up. Fortunately, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is everything the prior film wasn’t. With a pair of filmmakers who genuinely love this world of magic and monsters, and a cast that is enjoying every moment, there’s no risk in rolling the dice here; Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is as fun as playing the game itself.
There’s something to be said for staying seriously faithful to source material, but there’s even more to playing to your strengths. Filmmakers John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, the duo behind the hilarious Game Night and writers of numerous other comedies, are best when given the freedom to be as silly as possible. The world of Dungeons & Dragons invites a certain level of humor that Daley and Goldstein exploit to the hilt, while adding elements of other genres, including heist movies.
But mainly, you’re meant to laugh at the misadventures of troubled thieves Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine) and Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez). From the beginning, these two are in over their heads. Once part of a group of thieves, a run-in with a powerful dark mage has left them captured and incarcerated, working hard labor in a prison camp. After exploiting a parole board member’s unique physiology to affect an escape, they must reunite with Edgin’s estranged daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) who they both cared for. There’s a problem, though. Because while they were away, former criminal associate Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant) has become lord of the land, and he’s got control of Kira, too. In order to get her back, Edgin and Holga will have to go on a deadly mission that takes them into the darkers corners of the realm, facing the deepest, blackest magic.
Like any good heist movie, there’s the assembling of the right team to pull off the crime. This is one of the film’s many highlights because the cast and characters are all fantastic and bring something different, usually jokes, into the mix. There’s pathetic wizard Simon Aumar (Justice Smith), angry tiefling druid Doric (Sophia Lillis), and the wild card Xenk Yendar (Rege-Jean Page), a self-serious paladin who is way more of a hero than this group of rogues can bear for long.
The contrast between Pine’s Edgin and Page’s Xenk is a lot of fun. Traditonally set in the role of top hero, Pine is instead the ineffectual but delusional leader. Edgin is often the source of the group’s many many failures, and also of the roadblocks that get in their path. Think of him as a less effective Star-Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy, leading his own merry band of a-holes. It’s a great role for Pine who is charming and funny in equal measure. His best performances are when he seems to be the most at ease, and he’s clearly comfortable and loving every minute of this.
Pine is not alone, though. Page has never been so loose on-screen before, ironically in the stiffest character he’s ever played. Even Xenk’s walk is a repeated source of humor. It’s a familiar archetype for Rodriguez, tough lady…tougher than all of the guys put together, but she’s so damn good at it that we don’t need to know much about Holga. And Hugh Grant, at this point in his career, is instantly shady so we know to give ol’ Forge the side eye immediately.
Capturing the “anything can happen” spirit of the game, Honor Among Thieves is full of grand displays of magic, locations full of horror and mysticism, and a wild array of creatures from stone-spitting dragons to ferocious owl bears. Daley and Goldstein do a good job of using each scenario for all that they’re worth, usually for laughs. There’s a great graveyard scene full of talking corpses with lots to complain about. Occasionally the tone goes off track as so much comedy can make the stakes, which are pretty serious all things considered, feel unimportant. The film struggles to find its emotional center, which is the bond between a father and daughter. It gets easily lost with so much going on.
That said, what’s going on in Honor Among Thieves is incredibly entertaining. It does what is so often hard to do which is create a fantasy world that is epic, adventurous, funny, and worthy of being revisited. You could invite anyone to Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves and they’ll find something to love about it. I can only imagine that for longtime players of the game it’s even better. But even if you’re not a player, the film feels like it was made by people who love D&D and want others to love it, too.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves opens in theaters on March 31st.