Genre: Adventure and Fantasy Running Time: 2 hrs. 14 min.
Release Date: March 31st, 2023 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein Actors: Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Justice Smith, Rege-Jean Page, Sophia Lillis, Chloe Coleman, Daisy Head, Hugh Grant
orking during the day as a noble Harper, Edgin (Chris Pine) thwarts bandits, engages in espionage, and even assists in capturing heinous Red Wizards that plague the land with sinister magic. But coming home night after night to his wife Zia (Georgia Landers) and daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) with little to show for it leads him to ponder a more profitable venture. In a moment of weakness, Edgin steals gold from one of the Red Wizards he helped put away. When their vengeful kin track the marked loot back to the thief’s house and exact their revenge, Edgin finds his life in shambles.
Years later, Edgin has gathered a motley band of scoundrels for hire, including crafty conman Forge (Hugh Grant), barbarian Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), and sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith), who are hired by the powerful necromancer Sofina (Daisy Head) to raid a Harper stronghold for ancient artifacts – one which might hold the key to restoring Edgin’s family. When the mission ends in betrayal, Edgin and Holga are captured and sent away to an icy prison. Desperate to reunite with his daughter, Edgin forms a plan to escape, find Kira, bring down a malicious usurper, and regain the treasure he lost so long ago. But a quest of such magnitude will require the aid of allies old and new, including the shapeshifting Doric (Sophia Lillis) and the master swordsman Xenk (Rege-Jean Page), as well as the faith and resolve to defy the ever-increasing odds stacking up against them.
Inescapably appearing as a mashup of “Game of Thrones,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “Willow,” “Warcraft,” “Harry Potter,” and countless other franchises, this latest adaptation of the Wizards of the Coast (now Hasbro) property instantly embraces the castles and prisons and other medieval settings, complete with monsters and ogres, all requiring action-packed combat and deflecting laughs to maneuver. Like other famous or popular adaptations that arrived too late compared to their money-making brethren (“John Carter,” “The Seeker: The Dark is Rising,” and “Eragon” immediately come to mind), “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” struggles to feel original. It doesn’t matter that the source material has been around since the ‘70s; with the likes of such theatrical successes as Marvel’s interminable array, it’s an uphill battle to kick off a hopeful series based on tired high-fantasy concepts. “Where can we find a druid?”
Fortunately, Chris Pine’s sideline hero unleashes enough comedy to keep things amusing. Yet his cavalier attitude reveals that no conflict is really worthy of concern; a serious sense of adventure isn’t possible when jokes can always come to the rescue. And that tends to go hand-in-hand with this kind of picture – one steeped in sorcerers with unlimited powers, mutating beings with iffy boundaries, and an invisibility pendant that is apparently one-of-a-kind.
There’s a considerably complicated backstory to all of these fanciful oddities and realms (padding the overlong runtime), overflowing with “Star Wars” levels of proper nouns for locations and people (“Great; a history lesson”), but the perpetually undefined nature of spontaneous magic and spells makes it difficult to care about the various goals and missions. There’s little at stake when new roadblocks arise at every turn, only to be circumvented by an instantly conjured tool that turns out to be exactly what is needed to solve the given predicament. Characters within the film go so far as to announce that very notion via dialogue, commenting on the assumption that everything can be fixed with a trusty bit of magic, and on the arbitrariness of mystical objects and their powers (a magic suppression cuff is one of the worst). The screenwriters appear to believe that by calling attention to problems in the storytelling, moviegoers will ignore that they’re still major problems. “She’s caught in the time stop!”
However, all the effective humor spills onto the character and creature designs, allowing them to be visually engaging even when the story starts to feel like impulsive, impromptu fantasy vignettes strung together to keep the protagonist foursome questing for additional quests – which is exactly what the game is meant to do (a factor that, like countless references, is sure to appeal to preexisting fans far more than oblivious general audiences). A bird-headed judge, a reptilian beggar, a chubby dragon, an owl-bear hybrid, and more are rare visual treats, while a few cinematographic tricks and CG sequences prove to be quite enjoyable; the decently-sized budget provides opportunities for quality imagery, which retains the same humor of the script. Where reasons, motivations, and narrative premises are meaningless, at least the characters and their comic-relief actions are diverting. It may be unoriginal, goofy, and frivolous, but the bulk of it is still lighthearted and fun.
– The Massie Twins