OVERALL GRADE: B+
I heard some rumblings that this one might be better than it's early year release date and it has easily become my first real surprise viewing of the year and I think it deserves to be ranked amongst some of the best fantasy films in the genre. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a fantasy film with a journey/heist at its center that takes a likable group of thieves (really just misunderstood heroes) through imaginative locations, encountering creative characters/creatures, and giving us some memorable action set pieces with castle chases and even pudgy dragon fights. Calling it a Guardians of the Galaxy for the fantasy genre is a bit simplistic, but it’s also not that far off. Another way to put it would be that this is to Lord of the Rings what Shrek was to Disney Princess films. The director/writers here were the writers from 2018’s Game Night so that might help give you a clue as to the layered humor to expect and also hope for a juicy Jesse Plemons role in a future sequel.
Three things make this fantasy-action-comedy stand out to me. First, it’s just a fun story to watch filled with actors who genuinely feel like they are enjoying their roles. Chris Pine gives a charismatic lead performance here that brings a lot of comedy and still finds some strong dramatic notes. Pine plays the character a bit like if Jason Bateman had been cast as Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy instead of Chris Pratt. There’s a moment Chris Pine breaks into a song and it’s not just played for laughs - it’s meant to be for levity and it really works. Hugh Grant, like in Paddington, gets to sink himself into another smarmy villainous role and there’s even a delightful little surprise cameo that had me rolling. Second, the film is bursting with creative imagination and features plenty of practical effects to pull it off. There’s lots of real-life locations, practical builds, and costumes mixed in with stages/CGI to ground the film. Also, you never feel like they over rely on magic just for the sake of getting some CGI moment into the trailer. Finally, the relatively simple stakes of the film, recapturing a lost family, are refreshing for such a big blockbuster. Sure, they backdoor a bit higher stakes during the overstuffed finale (some trimming and focus would have really helped to nail the landing here) but it’s light and takes a backseat to the family stuff. On one hand, it’s heartening to have only one entry here and just let this story and world be a one off. On the other hand, they’ve developed such likable characters and such an interesting and fun world that it would be a shame not to revisit it. If that’s a problem, that’s a pretty good one to have.
OVERALL GRADE: B+