That same effect applies to the overall film. As with most modern blockbusters, the picture lives in a world populated by digital vistas and creatures like a fire-breathing dragon, yet there’s always a skewed twist. For instance, that fire-breathing dragon has a bit of a weight problem. It would love to devour our hapless heroes… alas it struggles getting even through the ancient mining doorway.
Edgin’s eventual crew of crooks is likewise struggling with their fair share of hangups: Justin Smith is Simon, a Sorcerer who lacks self-confidence; Sophia Lillis is Doric, a tiefling Druid who’s lost her tribe; and the aforementioned Holga… well, she’s a lonely Barbarian warrior who mostly resents being roped into Edgin’s harebrained schemes because it’s caused them to be separated from Edgin’s daughter (Chloe Coleman), whom Holga raised as her own.
It’s that last uncomfortable twist that facilitates the quest, with Edgin and Holga building a team to obtain a magical gizmo here, and a doohickey there, that will reunite them with the child. But often it’s an excuse for the group to get waylaid into crackerjack comedy bits, such as a scene where Simon briefly resurrects from a graveyard the corpses of an ancient battle—only these walking (or at least reclining) dead will stay alive long enough to answer just five questions. It sounds macabre but in effect it comes off a lot closer to Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine, where it turns out the dead of a losing side of a battle have very limited perspectives as to what killed them.
Obviously the emphasis on comedy and a breezy, devil-may-care attitude positions Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves to be viewed as a piece with the Marvel Studios formula, which has come to dominate big budget spectacle movies for the last 10-15 years. And while that was clearly a guiding star when this project was developed, as actually realized by Daley and Goldstein, who previously directed Game Night (and had a hand in the script for Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming), D&D plays more as an outright comedy instead of as a middle-of-the-road jack of all trades entertainment. In other words, you actually laugh here instead of smile as the next battle scene glazes over.
It’s to the film’s credit that Honor Among Thieves is unashamedly trying to keep the chuckles going throughout with its chubby dragons and bumbling cadavers. It’s also more visually pleasing than at least the last five years of MCU flicks because the directors and their cinematographer Barry Peterson take the time to make the thing look polished. Filmed on locations in Northern Ireland and Iceland, D&D doesn’t quite look like a Peter Jackson movie, but it does look like an actual film. The emphasis on practical effects in some of the creature designs also enhances the movie’s appeal and occasional belly laughs.
Two of the secret weapons of landing the loudest guffaws are Hugh Grant and Regé-Jean Page. Grant in particular steals the movie as Forge, a con man and scoundrel that reconfirms that the greatest rom-com star of the ‘90s and 2000s really wanted to play sniveling cads all along. While not the film’s ultimate antagonist, Forge is an overbearingly smarmy presence with a cheshire grin and constant self-promotional conviviality. It should be infuriating, and yet it is ingratiating as Grant walks away with the most giggles.