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I tried Dungeons & Dragons once as an adult. It ain’t my thing. Five hours lost forever like a penny in the wishing well. Still, the premise seems promising enough for adaptations, I suppose. That would take time to manifest. A Marlon Wayans and Jeremy Irons attempt at the turn of the millennium poisoned the well for nearly two decades.
Then “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” arrived in late March. It did OK at the box office, but most like myself likely skipped it. That’s a shame. It’s the most fun film to premiere this year, and probably a blast on the big screen. Luckily, it can now receive an afterlife upon its streaming release on Paramount+, so give this one all the love.
Look, that name “Honor Among Thieves” does the film no favors in the marketing department, though it is accurate. This tale follows a bard, barbarian, sorcerer and druid on a quest for great wealth and a little bit of payback. Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine) knows not the blade or enchantments, but he’s as handy with strings as strategy, planning to use both to find his way back to daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman).
Edgin never goes anywhere without with primary muscle, Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez), loyal to a fault. Next up, Simon Aumar (Justice Smith), a mediocre sorcerer, though he knows much about his trade. Less so about courting. Just ask his most recent failure, Doric (Sophia Lillis), a druid who can transform into any creature she wishes.
Together, these thieves plan to locate a specific magical relic that can gift something impossible to its user. But Red Wizard Sofina (Daisy Head) stands in their way, so they’ll need a lot of help to bypass magic barriers and hordes of guards.
We need more memorable full-blown fantasy. I’m not talking elements of magic in “Big” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” or fairy stories set in the normal world with that one thing that’s unique like “Aladdin” or any iteration of “Beauty and the Beast.” Hardcore fantasy (I’m sticking with that phrase) doesn’t go soft on the critters, creatures, spells, swordplay and adventure.
That’s “Honor Among Thieves,” an unapologetic fantasy adventure. All sorts of fantasy races dwell alongside each other. Wizards, dragons, undead assassins, elves, the list goes on. This “D&D” story packs it all in without over explaining. It’s all texture, decoration surrounding the central plot.
Its biggest strength: ditching the grandiose blockbuster formula. This is a hero’s journey through and through. Each character works through personal problems that culminate in a final showdown. There’s certainly plenty of CGI, but not to a numbing degree in a third act obliged to overdo it.
And since we’re talking about quality “D&D” content, another gem is currently available to stream on Prime: “The Legend of Vox Machina.” Like “Honor Among Thieves,” the very adult animated series follows a team – all different species – on their misadventures. Crass, hilarious and action packed, it proves that in the right hands, “D&D” stories can be good.
The key ingredient across both adaptations is fun. Playful banter, clever concepts, heists that go wrong rather quickly. In “Honor,” that all plays wonderfully well when the team encounters Xenk Yendar (“Bridgerton’s” Regé-Jean Page), a paladin perfect at everything he does. His incredible abilities and righteous conviction play so well against some thieves who can’t quite figure out who they are or want to be.
I have no desire to try D&D again. As much as I adore fantasy films, I can’t dedicate an evening to that game. If you love it, I commend you. But I’m all for more “D&D” films. Yes please. A thousand times yes. And keep them as fun as possible. We already have “The Lord of the Rings,” which frees this and other fantasy romps to carve out their own niche. “Honor Among Thieves” does that with a wink and a smile to a great genre oft lacking joy.
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