I must admit that I initially baulked at the thought of Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves, a movie inspired by a fantasy role-playing game. But sometimes the sword of snark must be sheathed. The whole thing works like a charm.
Thanks partly to Stranger Things, the game itself has never been more popular. Film-makers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (who helped write Spider-Man: Homecoming – spinning Marvel-ish magic is one of their top skills) pay homage to that rich sub-culture, while creating a world that the non-initiated can navigate. Never heard of Neverwinter? As long as you have a high tolerance for whimsical banter and lute-strumming, you’ll be fine.
The casting is impeccable. Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez and Hugh Grant are on superb form as flaky widower Edgin, his no-nonsense barbarian pal Holga, and their one-time cohort Forge, who all share strong parental feelings for Edgin’s tweenage daughter, Kira, (and covet a magic gizmo that can bring the dead back to life).
Meanwhile, Regé-Jean Page (most famous as the dashing Duke of Hastings from Bridgerton) is pitch-perfect as a hot, virtuous and irony-proof knight, It’s Sophia Lillis is beguiling as an androgynous druid, Justice Smith has some nice moments as a self-loathing sorcerer and a cute A-lister is unnervingly profound in the cameo of the year.
The film’s tone keeps changing, skipping from light to dark to kinky. Which feels right, as opposed to jarring, because the central characters have proper emotional hinterlands and therefore convince as individuals subject to awkward mood swings.
Holga has a “type” (men she can look down on) and her desperate search for love is full of surprises. As for Forge, his brand of chicanery is so very specific you may wonder if a certain kind of British politician is being lampooned. Basically, Forge is the ultimate greased piglet and, dang, you want this swine to get caught.
The visuals combine CGI razzle-dazzle (the druid morphs into a range of wondrous creatures; Forge’s Red Wizard boss, Sofina, has a grippingly scary mien; a “hither thither” spell allows for ingeniously skulduggerous space-hopping) with retro chic. Cast and crew are inviting us to party like it’s 1989, though, wisely, don’t allow the nostalgia to become oppressive. Finishing thing off with a song from band-of-the-moment, Tame Impala? Genius move.
Honour Among Thieves is this decade’s The Lego Movie. Smart, funny and kind, it’s yet more proof that the time to put away childish things is never.
134mins, cert 12A