This self-aware and surprisingly charming take on the iconic tabletop game makes for gleefully geeky viewing
Genuinely propulsive and never dragging – quite a feat for a two-hour-plus studio comedy – Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley’s first film since 2018’s well-received Game Night doesn’t offer up anything particularly groundbreaking, but is an undeniably fun and immersive trip to the cinema: a popcorn movie in the truest sense that doesn’t apologise for being earnestly, gleefully geeky.
Part heist, part fantasy and part comic caper, Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves takes the collaborationist spirit of its wargaming roots and spins it into something lighthearted and accessible, keeping us raptured through a series of sequences that feel like they’re being cooked up on a spot (a compliment). It makes up for what is essentially a thin plot, revolving around Edgin (Chris Pine), a disreputable yet kindly thief who is imprisoned alongside his friend Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), losing his daughter to the clutches of con artist Forge (Hugh Grant). Determined to reunite with his child, Edgin and Holga enlist the help of a motley crew in order to retrieve her from Forge and Red Wizard Sofina (Daisy Head), with the rescue group growing to include sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith) and tiefling Doric (Sophia Lillis), with assistance from paladin Xenk (Regé-Jean Page).
I should preface this review by fessing up to the fact that I’ve never played the fantasy tabletop role-playing game upon which this film is based, which has racked up legions of players since it first debuted over fifty years ago, and so I can’t comment on the success or accuracy of the adaptation itself, only that I appreciated that script didn’t feel the need to over-explain the machinations of its universe. Those unfamiliar with the Dungeons & Dragons magic systems may find themselves a little perplexed as to why certain spells may help the group and others won’t, but the group’s general talkiness seems to evoke the chattily descriptive, do-it-yourself spirit of the game, with the gang discussing their plans, obstacles and skills before attempting to embark upon the next stage of their mission. While not all the humour lands, the film makes the right choice not to be dour and self-serious; Hugh Grant is playing Hugh Grant, which rarely ever results in a bad time at the movies.
There’s still a lot of the major problems here that often plague these broad-stroked studio tentpoles – particularly the “I’m so random!”-esque quips that stop any sort of humour dead in its tracks, and the relentlessly CGI’d environs that take you out of the action. Still, although only about a third of the jokes land, the film manages to mine a little emotional heft out of its ending, and feels like a complete product in and of itself as opposed to trying to set up endless stakes and storylines for future films.
It all unfolds without really bothering you that the entire thing feels derivative of The Lord of the Rings – score, Mines of Moria-style battles and more – and Chris Pine is so charmingly watchable that yes, he might indeed win the battle of being the best of the Hollywood Chrises. The fights are well choreographed, the pace is zippy, and everyone seems to be having a splendid time. Filming wrapped almost two years ago, but perhaps Paramount were wise to wait: this is exactly the kind of escapist, ephemeral stuff we need after the exhaustion of awards season.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves is released in UK cinemas on 31 March.Where to watch