Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez embark on an epic quest in this entertaining adaptation of the popular role-playing game

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves


Source: Paramount Pictures

‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves’

Dirs: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein. US. 2023. 134mins

In the half century since the release of Hasbro’s original Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) tabletop role-player game in 1974, it has had a huge impact on modern gaming and, particularly, the evolution of video games. Yet that immense (and ongoing) appeal has not hitherto been successfully translated to the big screen; there was a children’s cartoon series in the 1980s and a lacklustre 2000 film starring Jeremy Irons that is perhaps best forgotten. But now, in bringing a decidedly modern sensibility to this classic fantasy adventure, Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves proves an entertaining take on the collaborative spirit of the D&D universe.

Within this richly textured world, directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein keep the focus on the notably human aspects of their characters

Opening in the US and UK on March 31 after premiering at SXSW, the film should prove a box office hit — not least because it is a strong family offering in time for the potentially lucrative Easter break. A savvy blend of accessible story and fan-friendly touches will ensure its audience is not limited to those familiar with the game, and the presence of stars Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez and Bridgerton’s Rege-Jean Page should also help broaden its appeal. (Paramount and the Hasbro-owned eOne have already signed on to make a D&D live action series for Paramount+.)

When we meet protagonists Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine) and Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez) they are two years into a prison sentence for ’skullduggery’. Edgin pleading his case for parole delivers an exposition-heavy but involving backstory involving his time as a member of secret organisation The Harpers, tasked with bringing down the malevolent Red Wizards of Thay; the murder of his beloved wife; and his subsequent friendship with Holga, who has helped him raise his daughter Kira (Chloe Colman). 

Unable to make ends meet, Edgin and Holga teamed with budding sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith) and conman Forge (Hugh Grant) to steal from the wealthy. It was a botched heist to rob a cache of treasures, including a mystical tablet which would allow Edgin to bring his wife back from the dead, that saw Edgin and Holga imprisoned and Kia placed under the care of Forge. When it transpires that Forge has entered into a pact with immensely powerful Red Wizard Sofina (Daisy Head) to become a wealthy Lord, and has no intention of returning Kia or turning over the tablet, Edgin and Holga join forces with Simon and shapeshifter Doric (Sophie Willis) to bring their family back together. 

There’s a lot going on here but, at its core, this is a self-contained and somewhat familiar quest narrative. As you would expect, it involves a vast range of incredible creatures and death-defying action — all of which is rendered by some stunning, immersive CGI effects, blended seamlessly with the rolling landscapes of Northern Ireland, where the majority of the film was shot. But, for all its visual prowess, the film’s most successful element is its balance of the fantastical with the familiar.

Within this richly textured world, directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (who wrote the screenplay with Michael Gilio) keep the focus on the notably human aspects of their characters. These are fallible, vulnerable beings, learning to harness their individual gifts and work as a team. Lorne Balfe’s rousing score, which deliberately recalls such epics as Lord Of The Rings and Game Of Thrones, is at its most effective during the sequences when the foursome really start pulling together, the bombast of orchestral sounds given extra weight by an urgent, spine-tingling chorus of human voices.

But this heroism doesn’t come easily. Edgin has to overcome his inherent selfishness, while Simon must conjure up some self-confidence and Doric learn to trust her new friends. This offers up plenty of opportunity for stirring life lessons, but it’s all kept on the right side of saccharine by the sharp screenplay, in which every noble moment is given levity with a quip or sardonic aside. Just as they did with comedy Game Night,  Daley and Goldstein bring a self-knowing wit to proceedings and, while it’s not as out-and-out hilarious as that previous film, maintain a gentle sense of irony without ever poking fun.

The cast lean into this humour, with Pine showcasing the everyman likability and natural comedy timing he has displayed in films like Wonder Woman. (It’s refreshing, though, that there is no romantic storyline here; his friendship with Holga and his bond with his daughter being important enough to fight for.) Rodriguez, too, is wonderfully deadpan as Holga who, as one of several strong female characters, dispatches bad guys without breaking so much as a sweat, while Hugh Grant clearly relishes playing another well-spoken, dastardly cad.

Best of all, however, is Rege-Jean Page, stealing the show as legendary warrior Xenk Yendar who carries himself with intense poise and an unshakable sense of duty.  Despite having no sense of irony himself — “I do not partake in colloquialisms,” he admonishes — he nevertheless delivers Dungeons & Dragon’s funniest moments. For him, as with the film as a whole, knowing when to take yourself seriously and when to send yourself up proves to be a winning combination.

Production companies: Paramount Pictures, eOne, Allspark Pictures, Hasbro Studios

Worldwide distribution: Paramount Pictures, eOne

Producers: Brian Goldner, Jeremy Latcham, Nick Meyer

Screenplay: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein, Michael Gilio

Cinematography: Barry Peterson

Editor: Dan Lebental

Production design: Raymond Chan 

Music: Lorne Balfe

Main cast: Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Justice Smith, Hugh Grant, Sophie Willis, Daisy Head, Rege-Jean Page, Chloe Colman