Many years have come and gone since Courtney Solomon – not to mention dodgy effects, dreadful acting and dismal writing – murdered Dungeons & Dragons at the multiplex. In spite of the two home video sequels that somehow limped out of its legacy, the film remains a remarkably risible tribute to a game of perhaps unparalleled cultural significance. Only now, two decades later, can the memory of Solomon’s effort be banished to the outer planes. Only with the release of Honour Among Thieves, which is, by all accounts, a tour-de-force of infectious blockbusting fun.
To the defence of Solomon’s film, it must be noted that ‘geek culture’ is, in 2023, many leagues cooler than was the case at the turn of the century. Look only to Netflix’s Stranger Things, a series so heavily indebted to Dungeons & Dragons that the big bad of each new season has taken its name from a D&D heavyweight. Throw in the Na’vi and a decade long Marvel boom and the world really has spun Upside Down.
Which is not to say for a moment that Honour Among Thieves is anything short of a nerd’s Christmas. Tonally, visually and in all aspects of narrative, it’s the Bard’s knees. As penned by Game Night wizards Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, the film boasts too a sprawling gameplay structure. Battle plans are made, things go awry and an abundance of severe left turns are demanded. Goldstein and Daley even have their cast do the silly voices.
Chief among said ensemble, Chris Pine proves a delight as wassailing wrong’un Edgin Darvis, in a performance pitched somewhere between Into the Woods’ Prince Charming and the roguish arrogance of his Captain Kirk. Lovably pig-headed and well matched by a stoic Michelle Rodriguez, who plays the barbarian Holga Kilgore. A gleefully parodic opening – all Game of Thrones until it very much isn’t – finds the pair incarcerated, on charges of ‘grand larceny and skulduggery,’ in a high security prison, miles from anywhere.
Edgin longs to reunite with his daughter – Chloe Coleman’s Kira – and to get his hands on the magical resurrection tablet that will allow him to bring his long lost wife back to life. It was the attempted theft of this – along with a hearty hoard of gold – that saw Edgin and Hulga imprisoned.
Both Kira and the tablet have fallen into the dastardly hands of scheming conman Forge Fitzwilliam – aka: the Lord of Neverwinter. He’s played by Hugh Grant, acting for all the world like Phoenix Buchanan has been cast in the role. That’s no criticism, Grant’s Forge is a hoot. More conventionally evil would be Daisy Head’s genuinely unsettling Sofina, a Red Wizard of Thay and dark eyed double-crosser. The minutiae of Sofina’s wicked scheme is neither here nor there in the face of such powerful and menacing screen presence. When the sequel comes, Head will be hard to match.
Naturally, Edgin and Hulga can’t hope to face such a foe alone and must recruit a hearty gang for their swashbuckling adventure. Justice Smith and Sophia Lillis make for magnetic additions, as a Tiefling Druid and semi-competent sorcerer respectively, but it’s Bridgerton’s Regé-Jean Page who lands the scene-stealing. The blissful sincerity that defines his paladin knight, Xenk Yendar, underpins Goldstein and Daley’s deeply rewarding approach to narrative. Character dynamics are, here, as important as exposition and world-building. It’s more Princess Bride than Lord of the Rings in this sense. Certainly, any indication that things are about to take a turn for the po-faced are quickly offset by some dash of silliness; a sleight of hand or gobsmacking A-list cameo.
The film boasts too a brighter cinematographic landscape than so many of its blockbuster companions these days. Computer imagery is well deployed throughout but more remarkable still are the film’s superb physical effects and creature animatronics, which verge often on the delirious and surreal. In effect, a world is created that, while neither distinct or memorable from a busy field, is a pleasure to spend time in. The writing is laugh out loud funny and denouement well earned. Frankly, there’s no two ways about it, Dungeons & Dragons’ second wind is a rip-roaring riot of a good time.