Directed by: John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
Premise: Based on the roleplaying game. Set in a fantasy world, a pair of thieves (Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez) recruit a wizard and a shapeshifter (Justice Smith and Sophia Lillis) to retrieve a magical artifact.
What Works: The fantasy genre tends to take itself very seriously and is often presented in a formal style akin to costume dramas. That self-seriousness is often a bid for artistic legitimacy and an effort to create dramatic stakes by giving the fantasy world and its adventurers a sense of gravitas. The filmmakers of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves take a different approach. Their movie is deliberately funny but in the right way; the dramatic moments are treated seriously but the filmmakers approach this project with a sense of fun. They acknowledge the silliness of the material and of fantasy in general. The cast consists of actors from various parts of the world and everyone talks in their native accent; the filmmakers don’t force everyone to speak with a British inflection the way a lot of fantasy films do. That choice gives the performances a naturalism that plays to the relaxed pitch. The filmmakers are here to have fun and they do with an adventure story that has plenty of action and a lot of humor but also interesting characters. Each of the core actors are cast to their strengths and everyone is given some background and interesting things to do. The narrative merges personal character details with the larger story so that when it comes time for this team to save the world, the bigger mission grows organically out of their personal stories. The Dungeons & Dragons movie also looks great with some terrific mechanical effects and unusual details; when the team faces a dragon it looks and moves less like the sleek beasts of Game of Thrones and more like an obese cat. These choices enhance the fun of the movie and distinguish it from other fantasy pictures.
What Doesn’t: Like a lot of fantasy movies, Dungeons & Dragons has a lot of exposition. There is a lot to be explained about the characters and communities and the magical artifacts. The glut of information is a bit overwhelming and not all of it is immediately necessary to advance the story or develop the characters. Fortunately, the filmmakers embed the exposition dumps within playfully edited action sequences that liven up the material. The one weak spot of the film is the relationship between Chris Pine’s character and his daughter played by Chloe Coleman. Their relationship adequately serves the plot but it never becomes a visceral parent-child relationship. They’ve been separated for years and she is alienated from her father; the two of them never overcome the distance in their relationship.
Bottom Line: Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a fun fantasy adventure. It successfully mixes humor and adventure in a way that’s satisfying and distinguishes Dungeons & Dragons from other fantasy pictures and it ought to play for fans of the games as well as more casual moviegoers.
Episode: #943 (April 9, 2023)