Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Rolls a Natural 20 for Fun: Review

The Pitch: In a fantasy kingdom far from today and this world, Edgin (Chris Pine) and Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) are loyal friends and adventurers whose adventures recently landed them in jail. Much to their dismay, when they manage to escape they find out that their former friend Forge (Hugh Grant) has become a powerful lord in cahoots with an evil wizard (Daisy Head) — Forge also has a lot of sway over Edgin’s young daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman), who Edgin left in his care. So the task is simple: Take down Forge and the wizard, with the help of a motley crew of underdogs with their own set of special skills. Believe it or not, dungeons and dragons will be involved!

Charisma Check: Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is not the first attempt to bring the brainchild of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, popularized in millions of basements and living rooms around the world, to the big screen. But those previous efforts weren’t geared to capture one thing in particular: Why this iconic take on swords and sorcery has had such staying power with fans for decades, despite being a relatively underground property.

Which is to say: Dungeons & Dragons is a fun game to play with your friends, and accordingly a faithful adaptation would be, y’know, fun — and this is the first level on which Honor Among Thieves is hugely successful.

There is a whole level of the film designed specifically to appeal to D&D fans, from the use of game-established artifacts, lore, and locations to basic aspects of the gameplay used as narrative devices. (At one point early in the film, this one-time 9th level Rogue found herself whispering, “Oh no, he didn’t check for traps.”) Creatures previously seen only in the pages of a dungeon master’s guide come to life on screen, and not just via CGI — there’s an impressive amount of practical-looking effects work to make the action on screen feel truly tangible.

But while the game itself is very much embedded in the premise, writer/directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Game Night) have concocted a solid fantasy comedy adventure on its own level, packed with solid jokes that require no knowledge of 20-sided dice to understand, and multiple clever moments that push beyond the expected. Not all of its ideas can be considered purely original: For one thing, the “Hither Thither” Staff introduced here might be a magic item but is, essentially, a portal gun (as seen in the Portal video games). But even then, the writers find inventive ways to include it in the adventure.

Meet Your Party: My game-loving brother noted months ago that the first very good sign for Honor Among Thieves was Chris Pine’s character — Rather than cast the white male lead as a badass warrior, Edgin is the party’s bard, good at planning and lute-playing, but less useful than Holga in a fight.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (Paramount)