" I’ll be monitoring your frequency "
— Zoe Saldana, Star Trek

MRQE Top Critic

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Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves rolls the dice and winds up winning with its spells of wit and charms of visual splendor.

Tablet of Reawakening

The honorable thieves
The honorable thieves

As it opens, the movie throws off a bit of a Monty Python vibe. Edgin (Chris Pine, Star Trek) tries to talk his way into a pardon after being locked away for a year on charges of grand larceny and skullduggery. He keeps waiting for a guy named Jarnathan to arrive; he thinks he’ll be sympathetic to his back story — particularly his life as a harper or bard, a guy who essentially was “forced” into a life of poverty. It’s a vocation that’s made it impossible for Edgin to support his wife and daughter, hence his acts of desperation.

It’s a good back story. One Edgin stretches out beyond reason while trying to buy time. After being interrupted by a judge, Edgin takes it as an opportunity to start over, from the beginning. Anything to push out the inevitable verdict while awaiting Jarnathan’s arrival. Edgin is a thief. Edgin stole from a wizard. That never ends well.

The Python element enters the picture when Jarnathan finally arrives. Edgin corners Jarnathan and — along with his partner in crime, Holga (Michelle Rodriguez, a regular in the Fast & Furious series) — leaps out the window. Ya see, Jarnathan’s a giant talking birdman (a funny-looking one at that) and Edgin and Holga saw him as their escape ticket.

It’s a shame. Their pardon was about to receive the stamp of approval.

Thankfully, while the Python vibe wears off too quickly, a core sense of humor slowly gains momentum as the lead characters form a team and start to gel while they formulate a plan for fortune and glory.

Edgin has a very personal mission: he wants to bring his wife back to life using the magical powers of the Tablet of Reawakening. Once acquired, it can be used only one time, so there’s everything to lose and nothing to waste. And he’d like to exact some revenge on the duplicitous, conniving and thieving Forge (Hugh Grant, The Gentlemen), who’s wedged himself between Edgin and his estranged daughter.

Walk On

It takes a while to warm up to the characters and this world of Dungeons & Dragons, but that settled-in feeling finally hits when Bradley Cooper makes an against-type cameo and the movie caves-in to its amiable quirky side. It’s a world with shape-shifting elves, dangerous wizards and fat — as in morbidly obese — dragons. At first blush, it seems like a concoction that shouldn’t work, but considering co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein co-wrote Spider-Man: Homecoming and co-directed Game Night, it all starts to make more sense.

That quirkiness works well and makes D&D surprisingly family friendly. What it could’ve used is a little more fright to balance out the fun, a little more edge to resurrect all those controversies and allegations of Satanism that surrounded the infamous role-playing game back during its heyday.

Take D&D for what it is. It’s certainly intended to launch a new series and it is nice to stray away from the world of superheroes and go full tilt on some fantasy.

The verbal jousting pricks up the ears and recalls some of the great wit and dialogue from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. One of those best moments involves a character named Xenk (Rege-Jean Page, Bridgerton), a warrior who is very precise and too literal in his choice of words. At one point he exits the story by walking in an impeccably straight line away from Edgin and his band of honorable thieves. Edgin pauses and observes Xenk walk that line; he walks right over a boulder without missing a step. It doesn’t end there, though, as Xenk can be seen continuing to walk far, far off in the background while the team continues their haphazard version of crafting a plan.

It’s that kind of consistency in the details that makes D&D an unexpected pleasure.

And, to that end, there are plenty of fabulous visuals. Some scenes are shot on location in Ireland and “enhanced” with clearly CGI villages. Nonetheless, the devil is in the details; it’s fun to look deep into the distance, into those CGI components, and see motion taking place.

No Doubts

Forge (Hugh Grant)
Forge (Hugh Grant)

The effects are extravagant, but given some of the lush, real-world locations, there’s a yearning deep in the soul to see D&D break through the CGI mold and do more to leverage modern technology in creating more practical — on-set — effects. In this day and age, that old-school approach is back as a key differentiator, something the John Wick series has seized with tremendous results.

Regardless of the CGI and the on-location filming, a series like this wouldn’t work without characters worth cheering on and that’s another area where D&D works its magic.

Edgin’s a good guy; wouldn’t trust him any further than I could throw him, but… still… he’s a good guy trying to do the right thing for the daughter he failed to support.

There’s also Simon (Justice Smith, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), a sorcerer held back by all sorts of self-doubts. And Doric (Sophia Lillis, It), an elfish Druid with an edge.

Collectively, the foursome of Edgin, Simon, Doric and Holga all have trust issues and insecurities to conquer before they can succeed, which all plays into making the journey worth taking. Ultimately, it’s not about the material acquisition but rather the personal growth.