John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein bring us their latest game, sorry, film, “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Amongst Thieves,” which adapts this game of the nerds into a film about a heist, found family, and magical beings. Sound a bit familiar? Yes, yes, it is, but does that stop “Dungeons & Dragons” from being great? No, it doesn’t. As someone who has never played a video game in her life except for that one game of FIFA that was horrendous, or if Just Dance on the PS counts, this film was still very impressive. Everyone is going to say it, so I’m going to say it too: it does remind one of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but the film holds up wonderfully on its own and doesn’t really warrant any actual comparison.
A sentimental thief, his best friend, and a couple of young adults band together in search of an important relic, only to find themselves entangled with the wrong company. Simply put, this misfit group goes on an epic journey, facing many obstacles along the way. What separates “Dungeons & Dragons” from other fantasy films is how seriously it takes itself. But in no way does it make a hollow story that is only presented for the laughs and the incredible visual effects. As a noob to the Dungeons and Dragons universe, the world-building in this film is there, but there is not as much time dedicated to it as someone like myself would be require. Although a lot of the time, I didn’t know where things were happening or what certain words meant, it didn’t take away from the experiences of the characters. There was never a feeling of exclusion, but saying that, I wish I had stepped out with a broad idea of the game just from the film.
The cast is great, and all characters have unique arcs that make them likable and worthy of appreciation. Michelle Rodriguez is especially a delight to watch while she brutally beats up people, and her comic timing with the rest of the cast is masterful. The film has a cheeky sense of humor that could have turned out to be cringy or even unoriginal, but instead, it makes a packed theater actually laugh out loud, unironically. Regé-Jean Page gives a memorable performance, even with his short screen time. He is charming, heroic, honorable, idealistic, and essentially perfect, and it’s a pity we don’t get to see more of him and Chris Pine together. Even with their wrinkles and grays, Chris Pine and Hugh Grant have everything going for them in a film with action-packed sequences. Sophia Lillis is charming, and Justice Smith’s self-doubt is quite palpable, adding a sudden twist of realness to this otherwise unreal film. From Genya Safin to Sofina, Daisy Head might’ve taken some notes from her fellow “dark one,” the Darkling, who, without undermining her own work, makes a compelling villain who needed her own story as well. The dynamic within the group just works. With the risk of sounding old, the old-school sarcasm between the friends really sticks the landing, making these characters likable instantly.
Of course, the film’s promise of “dungeons” and “dragons” is misdirection, as we see only one of each, but we can let it go based on all the other wonderful creatures and spaces we get to see. Who am I to say anything without having played the game, though? There’s no time to feel the two hours and fourteen minutes of the film because it’s quite an amusing journey through and through. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a film that is just to be enjoyed for the escapist feeling of stepping away from reality and immersing ourselves in another world for those two hours in the theater (“John Wick: Chapter 4” is another exception). It’s just a love letter to nerds and geeks rather than some socio-political message that must be discussed after, no convoluted cerebral ideas that are too much to handle when all you need is a step away from all those things exactly. I would recommend going to the movies with your besties to have a jolly good time. A couple of stand-out scenes: one includes a graveyard, so pay attention when it shows up because you’re going to be laughing out loud. Another one is somewhere near the mid-way mark and involves all members running from a giant creature, which I will not describe to avoid spoilers, and Xenk and Edgin working in tandem to defeat it.
For a world that I do not understand much of, I would still like to return to it and be a part of it. That’s a sign of great fantasy, I’d presume. Leave your thinking brains at home and bring your “going on an adventure” attitude. “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Amongst Thieves” subverts expectations, becoming a surprise entry in the great cinema of the first quarter of 2023. I’d give this film four out of five dragons, plus one extra, especially for Michelle Rodriguez’s Holga and her combat sequences.