Owlbears, barbarians and the perfect Chris Pine: the new Dungeons & Dragons film is a blast
From the directors of Game Night comes a new adventure with an affectionate look at the world of D&D
In the strange mythical realm that is Hollywood, nothing casts a spell like nostalgia. Barbie isn't just a doll, it could be the next summer blockbuster. They made Battleship into a movie. There is a Hungry Hungry Hippos movie in development, because somewhere there's an executive who thinks the key to box office dominance is adapting every shared trinket from our collective childhood.
Now here to cash in on your tabletop gaming memories is Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. And here's the twist: It's an absolute lark, a fun fleeted-footed adventure that will amuse D&D diehards and those who don't know their mimics from their mind flayers.
(There have been several previous versions of Dungeons & Dragons over the years, including an animated series and a number of forgettable live-action features.)
If you've played Dungeons & Dragons you'll know the key to a good campaign is the balance around the table. It's all how you choose your characters. You need a mix of brains, stealth and skullduggery for a good raiding party. The same applies to casting and this where the writer and directing duo John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein excel.
It all starts with Chris Pine, back in Kirk mode as Edgin.
Edgin is no starship captain but the bard-turned-thief shares Kirk's devil-may-care attitude and bottomless sense of confidence. Edgin is the man with a plan. Although sometimes it's just a notion. Maybe a vague idea. With his only weapons his steely blue eyes and surprisingly resilient lute, Edgin joins forces with a brawny barbarian named Holga. No stranger to playing rough and tough characters, here Michelle Rodridguez gets to flex her funny muscles as a woman of few words who loves potatoes and bashing and little else.
Since it wouldn't be D&D without a wizard, Justice Smith joins the crew as Simon, a young magic maker with performance anxiety. Ever since Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom I've enjoyed the awkward energy Smith brings to his characters and the haphazard Simon continues the trend. Add in Sophia Lillis as Doric, a spirited shape shifter, and the gang's all here.
The bones of the actual quest revolve around dethroning Hugh Grant as Forge, a slippery team member who upgraded to royalty. Grant is clearly in his happy place, smirking and scheming as the con man developing a taste for finer things. For some extra firepower, Forge joins forces with fearsome red wizard named Sofina.
Like any good game there are multiple side quests and diversions. Magical helmets beckon. Corpses must be interrogated and there's a surprisingly corpulent dragon to avoid.
Bridgerton fans will enjoy the entrance of Regé-Jean Page as a paladin. As someone who only dabbled in D&D, I'm not quite sure what a paladin does. But I instantly appreciated the hilarity of this self-serious warrior with a positively Vulcan approach to sarcasm.
The directors, Daley and Goldstien, are also responsible for Game Night and co-wrote Spider-Man: Homecoming — all stories that take the logic of the premise seriously while embracing the absurdity. Honor Among Thieves accepts the fantasy underpinnings of the genre, but leaves room the for the character to react.
What makes it work are the real emotional stakes many of the characters have. Edgin is the kind of charming rogue Chris Pine was born to play, but what drives him is a sense of guilt over choices that affected the ones he loves. Pine is good enough actor to give us a sense of who Edgin was and could be again. Even Holga gets her own semi-tragic backstory with a great cameo, a love more powerful than potatoes, remarkably unspoiled by the trailer.
For the hardcore players the film is littered with reference to D&D lore from a giant gelatinous cube to the impressive Owlbear Doric the shape shifter becomes. If you've never rolled a 20 sided die or wondered what your character's health points are don't worry. Think of Honor Among Thieves as Lord of the Rings Lite. Less ponderous, with plenty of laughs.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves opens wide across Canada on March 31st.