‘Dungeons & Dragons’ movie scores, thanks to perfect tone, spot-on casting

Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez have terrific buddy-movie chemistry in fantasy film that deftly balances high-stakes action, warm drama and clever comedy.

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A young wizard (Justice Smith, center) joins a band of rebels headed by Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) and Edgin (Chris Pine) in “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.”

Paramount Pictures

Full disclosure, I was never a Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast back in the day, as my tabletop gaming pursuits were more along the lines of Sure Shot Hockey, Cadaco’s BAS-KET and Strat-O-Matic Baseball—but I know the basics of D&D, and I appreciate its enormous popularity, which has extended far beyond the gaming world.

Still, when you’re making an ambitious, large-budget adaptation, in order for it to succeed, you’ve got to reach millions who aren’t familiar with the source material, whether you’re interpreting a board game, a video game, a book or a popular song, and yes, they’ve made movies from pop songs, haven’t you ever seen “Take This Job and Shove It” or “Born in East L.A.?” Think of all the people who became addicted to “Game of Thrones” without reading a page of George R.R. Martin’s books, or who were enthralled by “The Last of Us” without ever playing the game.

Which brings us to the good news: Even if you’re never once rolled the dice in the role-playing game, there’s a solid chance you’ll enjoy the whiz-bang fantasy adventure that is “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.” Co-directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, working from a script they penned with Michael Gilio, have struck the right balance between high-stakes action, warm drama and clever comedy in a consistently engaging, mostly family-friendly romp that features some of the most spot-on casting of any film so far this year. From the moment each of the main characters steps into the story, we’re thinking: Yep, that’s the right actor for that role.

‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves’


Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley and written by Goldstein, Daley and Michael Gilio. Rated PG-13 for fantasy action/violence and some language. Running time: 134 minutes. Now showing at local theaters.

Chris Pine, who has the megawatt smile and the stubbornly perfect hair of a matinee idol from a bygone era, lends his self-deprecating presence to the role of one Edgin Darvis, a member of the Harpers, an organization of spies and thieves who have a kind of rebellious, Robin Hood group mentality. Edgin’s penchant for unnecessary risk-taking leads to an evil and powerful cabal known as the Red Wizards executing his wife, and eventually lands Edgin and his best friend, the fearless warrior Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), in prison. (The cheeky overall tone of “Dungeons” is quickly established when Edgin and Holga execute a daring escape during a hearing before the prison board; they’re just out of earshot when a parole board member calls out that they’ve actually been approved for release.)

Off we go on our adventure in some sort of medieval-fantasy era, with the impressive sets and the inevitable CGI setting the tone. (There are a lot of weird creatures with jarring appearances roaming and flitting around.) Edgin and Holga learn their former ally, the duplicitous Forge Fitzwilliam (cue Hugh Grant to start hamming it up) has risen to power and has also become the de facto father to Edgin’s daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman). Why, that rat Forge Fitzwilliam! Now it’s time for Edgin to make a plan, because after all, Dungeons & Dragons is all about making plans to save the day, and adjusting those plans accordingly along the way, yes?

Edgin and Holga form a team that includes the gifted but insecure young wizard Simon (Justice Smith); the shapeshifting druid Doric (Sophia Lillis), who for the most part doesn’t trust humans, and the impossibly handsome, ridiculously heroic paladin Xenk (Regé-Jean Page), who is almost too good to be true but has zero sense of humor, doesn’t understand irony and will bore you to tears with his grand proclamations about how one should live one’s life. They each have different goals, but the elaborate and sometimes dizzying plot boils down to this ragtag but determined band somehow defeating the nefarious Forge Fitzwilliam—and his infinitely more dangerous partner in death and destruction, the Red Wizard known as Sofina (Daisy Head), a pure psychopath with seemingly unlimited powers.


Regé-Jean Page (right, with Jason Wong) plays a paladin with no sense of humor.

Paramount Pictures

Many of the battle sequences in “Honor Among Thieves” are serviceable at best, but there’s usually a nifty twist, e.g., there’s a voracious dragon who is so oversized and heavy he could be on a show called “My 6,000-lb. Dragon Life.” The humor is also crackling good, as evidenced by a hilarious sequence set in a graveyard involving reanimated corpses that can answer exactly five questions before they’re dead again. It’s a scene worthy of a Monty Python movie, pulled off with great panache.

Still, the most valuable asset in this film is the cast. Pine and Rodriguez have terrific buddy-movie chemistry, while the young actors Justice Smith and Sophia Lillis are excellent in their respective roles and have their own vibe, including the possibility of romance between Simon and Doric. In a relatively limited role, Regé-Jean Page effortlessly steals every scene he’s in, while Daisy Head is legit terrifying as Sofina and Hugh Grant does his Hugh Grant thing as the ludicrous and terrible Forge Fitzwilliam. This isn’t the first time someone has attempted an adaptation of Dungeons & Dragons, but it’s by far the best.

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