“Grand larceny and skullduggery!”
Story: Poor Edgin. All he wanted was to be a good Harper, love his wife and daughter, and live in his groovy cottage. But Red Wizards put a stop to that. Now he and his bestie Holga are running from the law, trying to sort out their issues. But Edgin’s daughter Kira – and a magical artifact that could bring Edgin’s wife back from the dead – are in the hands of frenemy Forge Fitzwilliam. I’m sure there’ll be no need for quests, getting a band together, special artifacts, or anything like that. Things’ll be cool. Yep.
Genre I’d put it in: Roll Playing Films That Got It Right
Release Date: 2023
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the RPG (roll playing game) Dungeons & Dragons.
Gotta say: I started RPG’ing in high school. And as I’m above the age for an AARP card? That’s quite a number of years that I’ve been interested in this series of games. (I still haven’t played Ravenloft though. Gotta rectify that. Dammit.) I’ll grab tickets to just about any roll-play adaptation, and while there have been highs like Knights of Badassdom? There have been films that could have better used their budget helping those in need. Looking directly at you, 2000’s Dungeons & Dragons. Thieves has taken Badassdom‘s advice, going for comedy, but setting things firmly in the land of the games. And it’s a ton of fun, if you can ignore one teensy thing…
Yeah. That expositionary dialogue. It’s horrible. Avatar: The Last Airbender bad dialogue. I was waiting for an “As you know…” to drop within these info dump moments. All I could do is think about how they could have done the #1 rule – show, don’t tell – within the film, with only a second or two added, or a scene re-blocked. And no, I’m not rolling my eyes because I know all this stuff already. Complete newbs would be bored by the cue-card-esque dialogue dropped in as 411. There’s a grace and art to giving your audience what it needs to understand the goings-on. This ain’t it. Luckily, once those info dumps…dump? Things take off at a nice clip.
The pacing of the film is helped along by a cast that knows exactly why they’re here. This movie is a chance for them to dial things up to 11, all the while wearing fun costumes and spouting fantasty nonsense. And everybody’s having a good time. Chris Pine, who did a similarly hilarious job in Into the Woods, blends earnestness and self-satisfaction together nicely in Edgin, and works well with Michelle Rodriguez’s gruff but secretly sweet Holga. I think that nowadays, Hugh Grant only takes roles he can ham it up for, and honey? I’m hear for it. Special shout-out to Regé-Jean Page as Xenk Yendar, a paladin who is so completely full of pious righteousness he had me guffawing even when he was completely silent. Page owns the role, and is possibly the best thing about this film. And as this film has a lot going for it? That’s saying quite a bit.
Okay fine. There’s another thing that got under my skin; the obviously squandered budget. At over $151 mill, I expect things like crisp visuals, and stunning CGI. But they were…fine. Kinda fine. Kinda blurry during panning shots. Kinda “that’ll do, pig” CGI. I guess a lot of the budget was eaten up by starpower, but c’mon y’all. Take a beat. Give your FX folks time to shine things up, and your DP’s time to get that shot. It makes a difference. Especially to viewers who’ve probably watched the LOTR extended trilogy on loop during lockdown. (What? It’s rewatchable.)
As Our Gang goes from side-quest to side-quest, and the ultimately to the big ol’ Final Boss set piece, characters arc, bonds get formed, and stats get upped. It could have been a big ol’ mess, but directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley are able to make sense of all the galivanting, making sure every place Our Gang goes, and everything they do, has a purpose. Even brief stops end up with a Deus Ex Hey-Who’da-Thunk, made enjoyable by the pacing and dialogue in each scene. And, it’s just so freaking fun to watch the characters get out of one ordeal after another. Makes me wanna run and grab my dice bag…
The monsters, you say? Well, there’s that teaser that…teased what’s here. But players will notice tidbits scattered throughout, like two adorable rust monsters fighting over a padlock, townsfolks attempting to tame pissy axe beaks (good luck with that), as well as Lizard Folk, Tabaxi, and Kenku. Not to mention Themberchaud, the wyrmsmith of Gracklstugh. HEAR HIS NAME AND DESPAIR. I want to head out for a re-watch, just to check out the background for more Monster Manual goodness.
If you’ve read this far in? Yeah, you should go see it. You’ll have a good time. And you don’t need to have a closet full of garb for RenFest or Dagorhir to understand this “good guys need to get the thing” storyline. Grab your mead and turkey leg (okay, multiplex Coke and popcorn is fine) and enjoy thyself. Huzzah!
#Protip: Gotta love when a performer shows geek cred. Like when Sophia Lillis took issue with the lack of a cleric (aka healer character) in the film. You tell ’em!