Review by James Lindorf
The fantasy genre has been on a roller coaster of popularity over the last few decades. The genre flourished in the late ’70s and ’80s with titles like “Star Wars,” “The Princess Bride,” “Willow,” and “Labyrinth.” Then it tanked in the ’90s and early 2000s with sequels to “Highlander” and “Beastmaster” and original films like “Dragonheart” and “What Dreams May Come.” In that dark time, director Courtney Solomon tried to adapt the roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons in what is universally considered a colossal failure. Now 23 years later, on the tails of the LOTR series and “Game of Thrones” the writing and directing team of Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Game Night) are taking us back to the world of wizards, shapeshifters, and dragons. “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” had a successful world premiere at South by Southwest in Austin earlier this month, but audiences everywhere will decide if the hype is real when it opens wide on March 31st.
Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine) is a bard and former member of the Harpers. This group sacrifices money and worldly possessions in the pursuit of justice. After his wife was murdered, Edgin left the group and buried himself in pints of ale and his relationship with his daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman). Helping Edgin raise Kira and keeping him from wallowing in despair is his best friend, Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez). When funds run low, the two turn to a life of crime to feed their makeshift family. Simon Aumar (Justice Smith), a lackluster sorcerer, and con man Forge (Hugh Grant) eventually join them on their capers.
Their next score will be one for the ages because it will fill their coffers and provide them with a powerful tablet capable of resurrecting Edgin’s wife. They will need the assistance of Sofina (Daisy Head), an extremely powerful wizard, to pull off the heist. When things don’t go to plan, Edgin and Holga end up in jail, and Simon goes on the run. Since Edgin’s imprisonment, Forge has become the Lord of Neverwinter, gained great wealth, received counsel from Sofina, and become a surrogate father to Kira. Years have passed, and when Edgin returns to Neverwinter, he will have to fight for his daughter and undertake a quest filled with curses, the living dead, and one ravenous dragon. To survive, he will need help from an old friend and some new ones like Droic (Sophia Lillis), a tiefling druid, and Xenk Yendar (Regé-Jean Page), a Thay Paladin. It is a genuinely motley crew, and more than just the fate of Edgin’s relationship with his daughter rests on their shoulders.
“Honor Among Thieves” is PG-13, but it is such a feel-good comedy it is minutes, if not seconds, of editing away from being purely PG. Even dealing with heavy subjects like the death of a loved one or the loss of your faith or purpose in life is handled with a smile and a laugh. Looking at the movie, you realize it removes some of the tension. You don’t buy into the danger because, like the genre itself, the good times are here, and all that bad stuff is in the past or glossed over so quickly it never makes an impact. It is clear they wanted to make an all-ages story. That is an understandable plan because more tickets sold means more money. It should have been handled in a more creatively rewarding way than treating the entire audience like they are five years old, but walking that line is more complicated than the task in the movie. The film is rated PG-13 but is often written like it was geared towards an audience that hasn’t progressed beyond G. Everything is spelled out for the audience. You never have to invest energy into thinking about the message or what may be coming next. They will look you in the face in 3.9 wall-breaking fashion and shout the answer.
The tone and maturity level of the film may leave some viewers asking for more. Still, it does work, and it means that perhaps the most significant disappointment with the film is the ineffectiveness of Edgin. In their world, the story revolves around him as our planet revolves around the sun. Now imagine if all the sun did was talk a big game but never did anything to keep us warm or help plants with photosynthesis. It might be nice to have around, but it’s just hanging out in the background when the trouble starts. Edgin is a rallying point and a hands-off motivational kind of leader. The job probably wouldn’t get done without him, but without any tangible effects on the outcome, you wonder if he is necessary.
With Edgin as the leader and the emotional center and being played by the very talented Chris Pine, it was an odd decision to give the most emotional plot line to Holga. Michelle Rodriguez is a great physical presence but is not the cast’s strongest actor. Combining some of her flat deliveries with the stilted and on-the-nose dialogue can sometimes be a bit painful. But it is not just her cross to bear. Every performance here suffers because of the writing, but not always to the same degree. Justice Smith as the wizard with the self-confidence issue and shapeshifting Sophia Lillis, really own their roles and are the most natural and eye-catching of the cast. If everyone can’t come back for a sequel, a spinoff with these two would easily be the best Plan B.
With several good performances and light-hearted nature, it is hard to stay mad at “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.” The CGI is not excellent but good enough with little to no bad elements. Conversely, there is also nothing on the scale of “Avatar.” “Honor Among Thieves” has all the trappings of the start of a successful franchise. Let’s hope next time the writers put more faith in their audience and its lead actors if it hopes to score more than a 3.5 out of 5.
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Action
Original Language: English
Director: Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley
Producer: Jeremy Latcham, Brian Goldner, Nick Meyer
Writer: Jonathan M. Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Michael Gilio, Chris McKay
Release Date: March 31st, 2023
Runtime: 2h 14m
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
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