Movie review: 'Dungeons & Dragons' captures joy of adventure

From left, Sophia Lillis, Justice Smith, Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez star in "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves." Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures
1 of 5 | From left, Sophia Lillis, Justice Smith, Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez star in "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves." Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

LOS ANGELES, March 19 (UPI) -- Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, in theaters March 31, matches the grandeur of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. With an irreverent sense of humor, D&D is more accessible than those fantasies, whether viewers have played the games or not.

Ed (Chris Pine) and Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) escape from prison, where they've been held for stealing gold and artifacts. Those artifacts include the Tablet of Reawakening which Ed can use to bring his wife back from the dead, since she was killed by a red wizard Ed captured.


When Ed and Holga visit their former partner Forge (Hugh Grant), they find he has adopted Ed's daughter, Kira (Chloe Coleman), and taken over the kingdom of Neverwinter with another red wizard, Sofina (Daisy Head).

Now Ed and Holga want to recover the tablet and save Kira, though Kira is convinced her uncle Forge is the good guy who never abandoned her. Ed and Holga team up with amateur wizard Simon (Justice Smith) and shapeshifter Doric (Sophia Lillis) on this quest.


Writer/directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, with co-writer Michael Gilio, undercut the gravitas of the fantasy mythology. Honor Among Thieves captures the fun of playing a game rather than treating it with an uber-serious tone.

Whenever there are inordinately complicated rules the heroes must follow, they become a joke. Humor also undercuts the more expository portions of the story, though does not completely absolve the exposition.

The backstory of Forge and Neverwinter goes down easier when Forge is also riffing on hot tea, but there are just as many names and terms for the audience to remember. That exposition also drops many names of people and places from Dungeons & Dragons games.

When the characters are name-dropping, the dialogue doesn't exactly feel organic. Even if it makes gamers happy, they should still recognize those Easter eggs are not really integral to the plot.

However, watching the four heroes solve puzzles by combining the group's powers is engaging and satisfying. Holga fights, Simon uses limited magic, Doric can turn into the most useful animal for any situation and Ed uses his cunning.

Dungeons & Dragons balances the four leads in each action scene more equally than many Marvel or Star Wars movies do. The cast has good chemistry together, too.


Grant is having a ball relishing Forge's evil and mocking the heroes. The film doesn't cut back to him while the heroes are on their quest, so Grant only gets to ham it up in the beginning and end.

Telling this tale requires just as many visual effects as the usual modern blockbuster, but the satirical take gives Dungeons & Dragons an edge over contemporary special effects movies. When magic goes wrong, the film even mocks some of the familiar visual effects tropes.

Honor Among Thieves applies The Lord of the Rings' Hobbit shrinking effect for comedic purposes. There are plenty of computer-generated creatures, but some of those creatures are adorable like Jim Henson puppets.

The climax involves a maze full of creatures and items both helpful and detrimental. Thus, the most inherent aspect of the Dungeons & Dragons game comes to life.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves brings the fun back to a genre that has taken itself too seriously for quite some time. Gamers will appreciate many specific elements, but any audience can join the fun.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.


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