SXSW Review: “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves”

I’ve never played the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons once in my life. And yet when Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thievesthe feature film from directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley that’s inspired by the game—opened with Chris Pine laconically knitting behind bars, I knew I would enjoy it to some extent. The film establishes a comedic tone from the get-go, one that challenges fantasy/adventure tropes even as the film itself succumbs to some of them.

In fact, much of Dungeons and Dragons feels like the antithesis of the self-seriousness we’ve come to expect from so many big budget genre films. Dungeons and Dragons is a huge movie, replete with big stars and questionable CGI sets and effects. But it’s also vibrant, with funky creature designs (cat people! Chubby dragons!) and some great filmmaking flourishes, not unlike what the directing duo utilized to elevate their 2018 comedy Game Night. In a couple instances, fluid tracking shots propel the action forward, while a lot of the fight sequences center on hand-to-hand combat and the physicality of the actors (namely star Michelle Rodriguez).

Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Chris Pine, and Michelle Rodriguez in “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” credit: Paramount Pictures

As for the story, however? I couldn’t recap all its intricacies and tongue-tying jargon on the fly if I tried, but here’s the gist: Pine plays Edgin Darvis, whose connections result in the murder of his wife. The years pass, and he raises their daughter (Kira, played by Chloe Coleman) with his newfound friend, the exiled barbarian warrior Holga (Rodriguez). He forms a band of thieves along with amateur sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith) and con artist Forge (Hugh Grant). But things change after a heist goes south and results in Edgin and Holga being locked up for two years. The pair attempt to unite with Kira, but she’s been under the care of Forge, now a lord and under the influence of Sofina (Daisy Head), a Red Wizard with nefarious plans. Edgin and Holga get the band back together— along with newcomers Doric (Sophia Lillis), a druid, and Xenk Yendar (Regé-Jean Page)— with the intent to rescue Kira from Forge’s clutches, and attain vengeance against those who tore Edgin’s family apart by obtaining a magic tablet that could bring one person back from the dead.

Dungeons and Dragons is at its best when it’s at its weirdest, centering around bizarre characters or gags like the repetitive resurrection of corpses to gain important information. And its casting is impeccable, going the Cary Grant route of having attractive actors play complete buffoons. Pine is quite funny, but Page is the real scene-stealer, revealing a legitimate skill for deadpan comedy. The script otherwise though? Some of the humor feels like it’s trying too hard, while the story itself often has the sense that it’s making it up as it goes along, with the characters jumping from plan to plan. But maybe that’s in keeping with the nature of playing the game, creating your own stories and characters on the fly. Dungeons and Dragons may not be stellar filmmaking or cohesive storytelling (and the emotions it’s clearly striving for feel rather contrived), but it is an enjoyable diversion that celebrates the power of found family and that—perhaps most importantly of all— is refreshing compared to other contemporary blockbusters. And it is admirable how Goldstein and Daly have managed to clearly both cater to existing fans of the game while crafting a story that is also accessible to newcomers.

Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves had its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival on March 10 will be released in theaters on March 31. Runtime: 134 minutes. Rated PG-13.

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