There has been a notable shift in fantasy films of late. Forget the cheesy, campy fantasy romps of the 1980s. It’s now the breeding ground for sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Well, maybe not quite, but since Peter Jackson’s mammoth Lord of the Rings trilogy, the genre has been taking itself rather seriously.
This is why it’s such a lovely surprise that the new Dungeons and Dragons film, subtitled Honour Among Thieves, is a very jolly affair. Game of Thrones it is not, and that is something to be grateful for.
Chris Pine leads the exemplary cast as Edgin, a bard who has tragically lost his wife and his daughter has been whisked away by Hugh Grant’s Forge Fitzwilliam after Edgin and Holga, a barbarian (Michelle Rodriguez), were captured and imprisoned. After escaping the prison, Edgin is searching for a magical tablet that could bring his wife back to life.
Edgin and Holga recruit wizard Simon (Justice Smith) and a druid called Doric (Sophia Lillis) for their quest, and they also cross paths with the dashing Xenk (Regé-Jean Page), a paladin.
Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves definitely wants what Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy has. Honour Among Thieves, directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, shamelessly employs a similar narrative structure and tone as Marvel’s tentpole franchises. It’s a smart move, one that I applaud because it’s largely what makes the film work so well.
It’s no small task to try and find a coherent narrative you can squeeze into a two-hour film from such a sprawling game. Even though we’ve come a long way since the moral panics surrounding the game in the 1980s, Dungeons and Dragons always needed to be a family-friendly affair, and it doesn’t get much more inoffensive than a sweet story about a father trying to reunite with his daughter and bring back his wife.
Maybe that’s what holds Honour Among Thieves back from transcending from good to great. There are no stakes to the action; the narrative feels overly familiar, but it never really tells you anything about the games, which can go on for days. From just watching Honour Among Thieves, I can’t tell exactly what has made Hasbro’s long-standing tabletop game so popular.
However, I would be lying if I said I hated Honour Among Thieves. The humour feels organic and elevated by the talented cast. Although the CGI is terribly uneven, most of the creature design is on point. Owlbear, a creature Doric can morph into, is a sight to behold, and there’s a particularly fun sequence with a dragon chasing our heroes, which is well realised.
Chris Pine leads the cast and once again proves he’s a naturally skilled comedian and an effortlessly charismatic lead. Sophia Lillis and Justice Smith are both charming in their respective roles. Smith’s character Simon gets perhaps the most affecting storyline here, but in a film this bloated and stuffed with too many ideas, it gets lost in the sea of other subplots. Hugh Grant mostly just plays himself, just dialled up to eleven. Make of that what you will. Daisy Head is appropriately menacing, but her villain, Sofina, just feels like a discount Scarlet Witch from the Marvel films directors Goldstein and Daley are so keen to emulate.
Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves is a lot more fun than anticipated, and while the jokes often make the film soar, the comedown comes hard and fast with a narrative that holds no surprises. Overall, Honour Among Thieves is still a triumph because it manages to inject some life and laughter back into a genre that has turned from fun to far too serious.
Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves is in cinemas on 31 March.