Following a botched heist, adventurers Edgin (Chris Pine) and Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) are sent to prison while their former companion, Forge (Hugh Grant), escaped and eventually became Lord of Neverwinter, a prosperous city where he rules with the help of an evil wizard (Daisy Head). As Forge now has custody of Edgin's daughter and a relic that can bring the dead back to life, Edgin and Holga recruit a sorcerer (Justice Smith), a paladin (Regé-Jean Page), and a wood elf (Sophia Lillis) to help rescue his daughter and save Neverwinter from a fate worse than death...
It's rare enough - in a world of cinematic universes, franchise-building movies, spin-offs, prequels and sequels, and multi-pronged studio approaches - that anything lives up to the promise. After years of movies copied and pasted from comics to the screen, with a few alterations, it feels strange to be excited about something like 'Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves'. Like the tabletop game itself, you don't need to have any foreknowledge of the lore, the history, the campaigns, character classes, or anything else for that matter to enjoy it.
Poor writing and directing normally front-load all of the exposition and setup, only just to rattle along to the big CGI conclusion with a flattened middle connecting the two. Instead, 'Dungeons & Dragons' opts to show rather than tell, with Chris Pine's witty bard opening the movie with a parole hearing that sets up both his relationship with Michelle Rodriguez's barbarian character, and why he's trying to get back to his daughter. From there, we meet a variety of archetypes - a square-jawed knight paladin, played naturally by internet boyfriend Regé-Jean Page, a roguish cad play with true aplomb by Hugh Grant - and the story continues onwards. That they're playing cutouts of characters isn't a bad thing. If anything, it's a shorthand for 'Dungeons & Dragons' as a concept - you take a well-known character class, like a sorcerer or a knight, and the person who plays them infuses their own personality into it.
Indeed, 'Dungeons & Dragons' is often cited as inspiring creativity for writers, because it involves improvisation, quick thinking, and spontaneity. The movie itself has all these things. There's a breezy kind of feel to it, never leaden down with complex mythology, and each of the characters are clearly defined and played with zest by the actors. Sure, Chris Pine isn't really stretching himself here by playing a fast-talking chancer, nor is Hugh Grant playing a charmingly befuddled shyster, but both of them know how to play them well. What's more, they both seem to enjoy leaning into the archetypes, which just feed into the heightened fantasy world where the movie exists.
Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley's script and direction evoke the kind of good-natured ribbing of high fantasy that made 'The Princess Bride' and 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' so much fun. The action setpieces have both slapstick humour and punchy, tactile effects welded together, with Michelle Rodriguez a dab hand at throwing goons across the screen with ease. 'Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves' doesn't denigrate its source material for the sake of appearing cool or becomes self-effacing to somehow save itself from being taken seriously. It embraces the inherent humour, but doesn't sand down the edges to make it fit for a mainstream audience. Instead, it embraces the dorky fun of it all in a way that doesn't make anyone feel self-conscious about enjoying it.