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Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves movie review

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Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Delightfully Returns the Fantasy Blockbuster to Form

It marks the return of the kind of blockbuster that rarely graces the silver screen today, one that grounds its awe-inspiring spectacle in sincerity and character.

Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Review:

In today’s world of “Marvelization” and dark, brooding genre pieces it’s hard to see a lighthearted, high-concept fantasy adventure thrive, let alone be made. The high budgets they demand often shovel studios in the opposite direction, where they remain content with the same intellectual property being trotted out time and time again. The live-action fantasy genre has effectively been acquired by Disney, with Star Wars, Avatar, and the MCU transforming it into one virtually synonymous with brand identity. With the same characters and storylines leaving little space for original experiences.

Nonetheless, Disney isn’t the sole culprit, audiences also share the blame for the current, dire state of fantasy cinema. Any and all live-action attempts to revive the genre have been laid to rest with disastrous box office returns. Even the Peter Jackson-backed Mortal Engines wasn’t enough, with the film’s wildly inventive world design (and less than stellar storytelling) fated to never be revisited. The audiences had spoken, if “Mr. Lord of The Rings” couldn’t capture them, nobody but Disney could.

It’s a genre markedly past its glory days of the 80s, left to be fondly recollected and, at most, misguidedly rebooted. Though even classics like The Princess Bride were modest successes at best.

Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves movie review
(Paramount Pictures)

Yet, it’s fitting that a fantasy property that reached the heights of its popularity in that decade is one that hopes to resuscitate the genre—and it’s a 20-sided roll of the dice that wholeheartedly wins. Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves, like the Disney machine, also banks on brand association, however, its source material is one that isn’t hemmed to specific characters, storylines, and property—just a massive world and its existing lore. Such creative abandon is vividly put to use, resulting in one of the most pleasant surprises of the year, and one of the greatest fantasy adventures in recent memory.

Teeming with personality and a wonderful cast of characters (that beautifully fit into their famed D&D classes), it cements itself as a fantasy not afraid to have fun. Oozing wit, charm, and a breathtaking sense of scale that awes and delights in equal measure.

Chris Pine, as infectiously charming as ever, stars as Edgin, an amiable thief who loses everything when he’s thrown in jail with his bruiser of a best friend, Holga (Michelle Rodriguez). After escaping, the two set out to find his daughter and determine why the last heist went terribly wrong. After discovering they were betrayed, the two undertake an epic quest to recover a lost relic, forming a ragtag crew of adventurers on their journey—who all realize their potential at key moments.

(Paramount Pictures)

Though this fantasy narrative is as simple as they come, it makes the most of its predictable beats, overcoming its inconsistencies and plot conveniences through sheer force of charm and mirth, riding one of the most memorable band of characters to newfound highs. With unbridled creativity, it makes full use of its fantasy concept, playfully twisting the genre’s familiar tropes and mainstays to cement an identity all its own. Rife with hilarious undead soldiers and chubby dragons, its wide assortment of beasts and rogues, however fleeting their appearances are, leave a lasting impression— rendering this vibrant, colour book world primed for numerous revisits.

Its bold, intricate character design is only emboldened by the sparkling performances, all of which are blissfully theatrical. Hugh Grant’s traitorous Forge is a clear high point. A charming louse, that audiences will hate to love. Pine’s roguish allure is on full display, colliding with Rodriguez’s loveable barbarian in satisfying form. Justice Smith’s Simon and Sophia Lillis’s Doric also share a natural chemistry, with their sorcerer and druid abilities bringing forward some of the most inventive spells ever concocted. Regé-Jean Page’s Xenk, A powerful Paladin, is also a comic standout, with his overliteral demeanour frequently clashing with Edgin’s wry witticisms.

It’s an eclectic group that is given crucial time to develop and ruminate, with each member satisfying their arcs in a rewarding fashion, confidently returning the fantasy blockbuster to form— reaching levels of sincerity and catharsis rarely seen in its contemporaries. It also helps that the film is riotously hilarious, landing each of its wild gags in bold fashion. The most outrageous of which is a hysterical graveyard resurrection and a holographic spell that begins skipping like a broken record. With reckless abandon, writer-directors Johnathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley throw everything at the wall, and virtually all of it sticks.

(Paramount Pictures)

Bursting with texture and colour, Dungeons and Dragons delivers a majestic world that is bustling with life, lore, and beauty at every turn. The creature design is at once wholly familiar and wildly unique, serving a purpose far beyond set decoration, and injecting vigour into each encounter. From humble villages to trap-infested caves to grand shapeshifting coliseums, each varied plane of this realm is so imaginatively realized, it becomes a quest in itself to soak it all in.

Moreover, Goldstein and Daley’s setpieces are some of the most inventively constructed in the fantasy canon. The swashbuckling combat and daring escapes are arranged with great care, underpinned by swirling long takes that float through each environment, dazzling and enchanting with each carefully curated beat. Doric’s transmogrifying escape, morphing from animal to animal is one sequence that will surely stay in the cinematic consciousness for years to come.

While Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves leans on an overly familiar score and a generic “big bad”, its heartwarming, endearing edge repeatedly wins out. It marks the return of the kind of blockbuster that rarely graces the silver screen today, one that grounds its awe-inspiring spectacle in sincerity and character. A delightful return to form for the fantasy adventure that might possibly usher in a new golden age for the genre.

– Prabhjot Bains

Written By

Prabhjot Bains is a Toronto-based film writer and critic who has structured his love of the medium around three indisputable truths- the 1970s were the best decade for American cinema, Tom Cruise is the greatest sprinter of all time, and you better not talk about fight club. His first and only love is cinema and he will jump at the chance to argue why his movie opinion is much better than yours. His film interests are diverse, as his love of Hollywood is only matched by his affinity for international cinema. You can reach Prabhjot on Instagram and Twitter @prabhjotbains96

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