Play time: Chris Pine leads his team in the fantasy adventure ‘Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves’.
DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES ***1/2 (134 minutes) M
It’s the lightness of touch that brings the B-grade shenanigans of the comic fantasy adventure Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among thieves to life.
It makes for a nice, refreshing change from the maudlin tone of so many recent screen fillers, even though D&D ultimately turns out to be a pleasantly forgettable time killer, no doubt the first in yet another fantasy-based film franchise.
On a quest for revenge over the murder of his wife and the kidnapping of his daughter, Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine) puts a team together to usurp the comically nasty, amusingly named villain Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant).
Forge is a duplicitous bad guy with a silver tongue who makes a surprisingly strong case that Edgin’s daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) is much better off living with him in the security and riches of his kingdom. She gets everything she wants and doesn’t like her dad all that much, an issue that is never really resolved.
With a warrior, a wizard and a shapeshiftter on board (Michelle Rodriguez, Justice Smith and Sophia Lillis respectively) the team embark of several mini-quests to obtain a magical slab called the Resurrection Tablet, which can bring the dead to life.
Determined not to take any of this seriously, directors Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley (who co-wrote with Michael Gilio) generously stud the film’s pseudo-mythology with jokes, visual gags and loads of comic relief. The graveyard sequence where they converse with corpses is an absolute hoot.
Stealing every scene he’s in, Hugh Grant shines, chiming in with a fab, quip-laden performance. To be frank, he’s funnier here than he is in a lot of his romantic comedies. If only he had more screen time.
Important side note: Grant joins the long list of humour-driven movie villains, a tradition we can trace back to Gene Hackman’s seminal performance as Lex Luthor in 1978’s Superman: The Movie. Hackman still awaits a special award for creating the template that has formed the basis of every charismatic bad guy since. What a debt he is owed.
Production-wise, the film looks terrific, with plenty of clever tracking shots and camera moves spicing up the pretty landscape shots and grand design work.
The slightly mystical world in which the lark is set, with names such as Neverwinter and Forgotten Realms, has all the visual bells and whistles we now expect from any fantasy-based screen adventure. The cascade of 21st-century blockbusters has set the bar very high indeed and D&D does not falter in this regard.
That said, there is almost no novelty left. Thanks to Lord of the Rings, Game of Thornes and all those other shows that have fed the global infatuation with heightened medieval architecture and mythical beasts it all looks very, very familiar. As we saw in Shazam 2, even the dragons look like they all come from the same stable.
Speaking of which, the actual dragon content of Dungeons and Dragons is pretty light, though what there is clocks in as being fairly cool.
In particular is the confrontation the team has with one portly beast that looks like it’s been neglecting its gym membership. There’s also trouble with a fire-breathing number who, though standard issue, adds to the film’s cartoonish spectacle.
Still, be warned: the film might well prove disappointing to those who have become obsessed with dragons of late via dragon lover Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones. You read it here first.
Come to think of it, there’s not that much dungeon action in the film, either. There are lots of dimly lit subterranean corridors and chambers, but that’s about it.
As most would twig the film is based ever-so-loosely on the famous role-playing board game, though you don’t need to know anything about that to enjoy this film for the fluffy fantasy lark that it is.
Footnote: Two years before he hit big in Splash, Tom Hanks had his first leading role in Mazes & Monsters, a telefilm that told of a college student who becomes so immersed in a Dungeons and Dragons-type role-playing game he loses touch with reality. Turned out to be quite prescient.