Dungeons & Dragons
Although plenty of games have been created for Germany’s best-known role-playing game “The Black Eye”, the role-playing system “Dungeons & Dragons” developed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in the late 1960s is generally considered the most popular in the world – also for video game implementations In the 80s there were already titles like Pool of Radiance or Eye of the Beholder, which were based on the then current set of rules and the fantasy kingdom “Forgotten Realms” from D & D. At the latest with Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights, the game system made its final breakthrough on the games market , the third installment in the Baldur’s Gate series is eagerly awaited by RPG fans around the world and after several years of Early Access, it’s finally coming out in August 2023. So it’s a good time to try a new movie too, if it’s better than his notorious predecessor?
Classic D&D world
Paladin Xenk (right) helps retrieve an important artifact – and fights like hell. (Source: Paramount)
The harper Edgin (Chris Pine, the young James T. Kirk from the Star Trek reboot) has lost his wife in his fight against the evil red magicians and, despite having a small daughter, throws his will to face life overboard. Only the barbarian warrior Holga (Michelle Rodriguez, “Rain” from the Resident Evil films) can free him from his misery, together they raise little Kira. With the moderately gifted magician Simon (Justice Smith, master detective Pikachu) and the thief Forge (Hugh Grant) they finally form a group that earns their money with burglaries – until a last coup goes horribly wrong and Edgin and Holda end up in prison. But because Edgin really wants to go back to his daughter, the two plan to escape…
Holda and Edgin’s friendship forms the backbone of the film. (Source: Paramount)
Compared to the old films, Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves does a lot of things right. One of the most important innovations: The film is not set in any self-imagined fantasy world, but clearly in the Forgotten Realms in the Sword Coast area. Names like Baldur’s Tor, Niewinter , Underdark or Deepwater appear – legendary locations that have been known to D&D players for many years. Character classes such as warriors, bards, mages or paladins also fit into the Forgotten Realms. And even the population conforms to the rules: in addition to humans and barbarians, the druid Doric (Sophia Lillis, “ES”), for example, is a Tiefling, and Simon is even a descendant of the famous magician Elminster. There are also monsters like owl bears, deceptive beasts or mimic treasure chests. So there can be no doubt: the authors of the film have dealt with the template thoroughly and thus give knowledgeable viewers a lot of fan service.
A very fun adventure
But that alone doesn’t make a good film. Without a decent story and good actors, the joy of seeing the Forgotten Realms again would be short-lived. Fortunately, Paramount put the project in capable hands. The dual directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, who also shot the successful “Game Night”, are in their element here. Among other things, Goldstein wrote the screenplay for “Spider-Man: Homecoming”. John Francis Daley, who most of you probably know from his time as Psycho Sweets in the long-running series “Bones”, has been working with Goldstein as a director and writer for a long time. The story comes from Chris McKay, among others, who directed the Lego Batman film.
A group experienced above all in comedy, who have come together here to create an exciting, but above all funny journey into the forgotten realms for the viewers – and they absolutely succeeded. Of course, the creators don’t reinvent the wheel, but the punchlines are there, the ideas are original and the story keeps a good pace for over 130 minutes and doesn’t allow any slacks. And some scenes (five questions to the dead) are absolute humorous highlights that should become popular clips on YouTube or TikTok in the years to come.
Good cast, great facilities
A film like this depends on its actors – and Goldstein and Daley made a good choice there too. Chris Pine, as the leader of the group, clearly enjoys the self-deprecating fantasy plot and once again proves he has a good feel for the timing of punch lines. Along with Michelle Rodriguez, he shoulders the lion’s share of the film and is a real show as the plan maker and leader of the group. The creators wrote many non-verbal gags for Rodriguez himself, and with her very unusual taste in choosing a partner, she not only makes for a cool cameo, but also a lot of laughs. While Sophia Lillis and Justice Smith don’t get much to do, Rege-Jean Page as powerful paladin Xenk and Hugh Grant as gloriously mean-slimy thief Forge stand out from the rest of the cast despite only getting limited screen time.
Perhaps the most important decision of the film, however, was made by Paramount itself: With the release of a whopping budget of around 150 million dollars, they made sure that the Forgotten Realms also appear on the screen in all their glory, Goldstein and Daley obviously had to make no compromises here. Whether it’s an arena maze in the finale, numerous spectacular magic spells or Doric’s transformation into different animals – it all looks really good. Cinematographer Barry Peterson captures this in great images that convey real dynamism. A break-in by Doric into the fortress of Forge as an animal being is one of the strongest scenes in the whole film, precisely because it was clothed in such successful, fast-paced images.
So only viewers who would have liked Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves as a serious fantasy epic in the style of a “Lord of the Rings” film adaptation are disappointed, then they won’t get that here. The film is a classic adventure story in terms of story – and quite conceivable as a D&D campaign, but at its core it is very clearly a comedy that is intended to make people laugh and in which tragic moments are not given a place, even if death is a part plays.
You don’t have to know Dungeons & Dragons to have fun here, the film works perfectly without any previous knowledge. However, if you are an expert in the field of the Forgotten Realms and have already visited many places on the Sword Coast with your own role-playing group or on the computer, the well-written screenplay will give you that extra portion of joy. It’s to be hoped that Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves will be the success it deserves in terms of quality – because then fans can look forward to more adventures. In the end, humor is always a matter of taste, but given the density of gags and the quality of the visuals and content, it’s hard to imagine that someone wouldn’t have any fun in this film at all. Clear recommendation from the editors: go to the cinema! The film will start in German cinemas on March 30th.