It’s amazing what time can do for the evolution of an idea. For two decades, the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (do not call it a “board game,” I was advised by one friend in-the-know) was the focus of steady and significant controversy from critics, mostly concerned parent groups, who believed it to be connected to more than two dozen murders and suicides. It was not, of course, but facts have never gotten in the way of a good ol’ fashioned moral panic.
Eventually, conservative Christian parents found other things over which to fret and ban — video games, Harry Potter, trans children (such diversity of hatred) — and Dungeons & Dragons (also known as “D&D” or “DnD”) fell off their radar, leaving only a bunch of lovable nerds and geeks and the occasional xckd comic reference in its wake.
I’ve never played D&D, but it feels as though every other friend of mine has had some sort of history with the game. I invited one of them, Sarah, along to a recent critic’s screening of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (★★★★★).
I intentionally went into it completely ignorant of the history and culture of this game and its fanbase. There is no shortage of film critics counted among its devotees, whom I’m certain will write far more eloquent and nuanced takes that primarily cater to the organic community that has sprung from, and thrived through, the culture of the tabletop battlefield. I wanted to offer a perspective for those who aren’t yet certain if a movie based on a game is worth the price of admission.
Much to my surprise, I can confidently state that Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is the most delightful movie I’ve seen in years.
Powered by enthusiastic direction, gorgeous design, and a powerhouse cast that never fails to entertain, I was taken aback by how much fun I had, particularly for a flick that clocks in at two hours and fourteen minutes — a startling fact for a story that seems to breeze effortlessly from scene to scene.
Take Game of Thrones and add warmth, humor, brilliant writing, and far better lighting, and this is the film you’d get. There are no dull scenes. There is no filler. Shot after shot mesmerizes and begs the question: why aren’t more movies made with this dedication and spirit?
Leading man Chris Pine plays Edgin Darvis, a Harper (kinda like a detective in this fantasy world) who goes after the bad guys and comes home nightly to a warm home and loving family. But when the Red Wizards (the baddest of the baddies) kill his wife, leaving him and his baby daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) alone in the world, he teams up with a band of charming rogues to carry out ethical thievery.
He becomes best friends with Holga, a hyper-competent barbarian played by Michelle Rodriguez, who, in my humble opinion, has never shone brighter in any other role to date. The two of them raise Kira while Edgin pursues a magical talisman that supposedly will make it possible to bring his wife back from the dead.
Along the way, they encounter a range of characters: sardonic and charming villain Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant), exceptionally brilliant and delightfully insufferable paladin Xenk Yendar (Regé-Jean Page), badass tiefling druid Doric (Sophia Lillis), earnest and affable novice sorcerer Simon Aumar (Justice Smith), and a particularly dangerous and enigmatic Red Wizard of Thay, Sofia (Daisy Head), whom I guarantee will top the list of Halloween costumes this year.
There is not a weak performance among the potent ensemble, who balance a warm sincerity of tone with a biting humor that deploys just enough irony without spoiling the good vibes.
I am not really much for the fantasy genre. I recognize and respect it as high art, but it’s just not my thing. So, coming into this, I was worried that the world in the movie would be inaccessible to folks like me who don’t often venture in this direction. Instead, I found absolutely no need for context or backstory to enjoy the experience, although judging by the fans in my packed theater, including Sarah, constantly laughing beside me, D&D enthusiasts will find plenty of aspects paying love to their devotion.
The only thing about this movie that should concern parents is that they may very well find themselves dragging their own children to repeat viewings. All movies should aim to be this magical.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is playing in theaters nationwide. Visit www.fandango.com.
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