Wait, this was like, a lot of fun?
“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is the second theatrical adaptation of the famed role-playing game (after 2000’s critical and commercial flop), and stars Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Justice Smith, and Sophia Lillie as a group of thieves who set out to steal a magical tablet from a corrupt Lord (Hugh Grant). Jonathan Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein direct and co-write.
I’m a pretty big fan of Jonathan Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s comedy style, which emphasizes deadpan and quick quips; they wrote “Horrible Bosses” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and also directed “Game Night,” arguably one of the best studio comedies in recent years. They were an interesting choice to helm a $150 million fantasty adventure to say the least (they took this job because after dropping out of directing the upcoming “Flash” film, though they remain credited writers), but the pair proves they know what they’re doing with action sequences, while keeping the humor and heart of their previous works.
It’s hard to pull off multiple genres, but blending action with comedy has always been a Hollywood staple (“Die Hard,” “Lethal Weapon,” the early Marvel days). The action in “Honor Among Thieves” is surprisingly full of a lot of hand-on-hand combat (compared to big magical set pieces), and Daley and Goldstein (along with their frequent cinematographer collaborator Barry Peterson) stage them well. You can actually tell what is going on (there aren’t a hundred cuts and bunch of shaky cam), and the camera spins and weaves along with the characters to add an immersive feel. Not to say there aren’t big dragons and mystical spells in the film, but I found myself enjoying things more when characters fought with swords rather than magic.
The comedy works really well, too, with some inspired bits and clever edits for beats. There’s a few gags that don’t land or go on for too long, but I’d say this is funnier than a good chunk of straightforward modern comedies. You also don’t have to know anything about Dungeons & Dragons to follow the plot; what you need to know they explain, what you don’t doesn’t hinder your experience or understanding of the world (though I’m sure will serve as fun Easter eggs for D&D players).
The cast is great, with Chris Pine continuing to show why he may be Hollywood’s “Best Chris” (among him, Evans, Hemsworth, and Pratt). He has charm but can also turn on the emotion, especially when talking to his estranged daughter (Chloe Coleman, who I have liked for a few years and think will be a star one day). Michelle Rodriguez is also a nice blend of comical and intimidating, and it was refreshing to see a platonic male-female duo in a mainstream movie that doesn’t fall into the obligatory relationship by the credits.
I love Hugh Grant and it was great to see him having fun on the big screen again. Basically playing the same charming but scheming character he did in “Paddington 2” (for which he unironically deserved an Oscar nomination for), Grant has a few great quips and smart alec retorts that he’s known for, and I think he was a fun choice for the bad guy.
The film moves along at a pretty good pace until the climax, and I made a joke in my head that this would rank as the fourth-best “Lord of the Rings” film (it’s certainly better than the three “Hobbit” installments). However then the film takes a page right out of the LotR saga, and refuses to know when or how to end. Things go from a lighthearted heist film to an end-of-the-world disaster movie, and it’s a shame that the filmmakers thought they needed to tack on a big bombastic set piece to the end of the film, because things were going so well up to that point. It doesn’t ruin the film as a whole, but like “Wonder Woman” it feels like such a diversion from the previous two hours that you can’t help but wish it hadn’t happened (this runs 134 minutes, not crazy but definitely overstays its welcome by a tad).
“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is a huge surprise, and a welcome change of pace from the awful-looking corporate machine productions that Marvel and DC have become. The cast is charming, the script is funny, and the action is inspired; if that’s not why we go to the movies, I don’t know what is.
Critics Rating: 7/10