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The new ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ film mostly captures the game’s magic

'Honor Among Thieves’ comes with a lot of D&D baggage, but the fantasy adventure is fun enough for even non-players to enjoy

4 min
(2.5 stars)

With the popular resurgence of the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, it was only a matter of time before a movie studio got hold of it. I mean another movie studio. Yes, there was a trilogy in the 2000s, with Part 2 made for TV and Part 3 going straight to video. But no, they have nothing to do with the new “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” which features a new all-star cast and better succeeds in selling the D&D experience to a wider audience than die-hard players.

How Dungeons & Dragons somehow became more popular than ever

Here’s the backstory, which unspools during a parole board hearing that opens the film: Chris Pine plays Edgin Darvis — or Ed, as he is known — a virtuosic thief who, with friends Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), Simon (Justice Smith) and Forge (Hugh Grant), had teamed up with the wizard Sofina (Daisy Head) to rob a vault full of riches, including a magical tablet that would allow Ed to resurrect his dead wife. Are you with me so far?

Unfortunately, Ed and Holga have been captured by government goons, with Ed forced to leave his daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) in the custody of Forge, whose partnership with Sofina has endowed him with a dangerous amount of power and wealth. (Yes, Forge is now a bad guy.)

Long story short: Ed and Holga escape and, realizing the danger Kira is in, get together with Simon and two new comrades (Sophia Lillis and Regé-Jean Page) to save Kira from Forge’s clutches — and save the realm in which they reside from Sofina’s growing malevolent influence.

It’s a lot. If you thought “Dune” came with tons of baggage, you ain’t seen nothing. Think of it this way: as the story of a father working to save his daughter and become worthy of her love through heists and trickery.

Based on the gaming storyline known as the Forgotten Realms campaign, “Honor Among Thieves” is packed with D&D lore: Thayans, Red Wizards, Harpers, the Underdark and a host of other locations, creatures and backstories, all of which bog down the film. The extra flavor, which does feel very Dungeons & Dragons-y, doesn’t add much to the charm of the story.

Once you wade through the setup, the film actually has a low barrier of entry. Everything you need to know about the world you’re about to enter is laid out in exposition, though you may want to take notes.

The film captures the magic of playing Dungeons & Dragons without all the pesky reading that comes with it. The same unpredictability that allows the tabletop game to feel exciting and real occurs throughout the film, making it stand out from its action-comedy counterparts. Spells fail, characters make stupid mistakes and terrifying creatures appear out of thin air.

Take Ed and Holga’s daring escape in the film’s first act, in which they take flight from a prison tower on the back of an unwitting parole board judge. As they fling themselves from the window, the announcement comes that they’ve been granted probation. Oh, well. Their pointless escape will come back to bite them later.

As you might expect, monsters are a crucial element of D&D, but the CGI renders them with varying degrees of verisimilitude. Some of the creatures look real enough to jump off the screen. Others evoke the green-screen capabilities of a Zoom background.

Co-directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (so good as Sweets in the now-canceled Fox series “Bones”), both of whom co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Gilio, the film bears the stamp of its creators, who, in various combinations, have collaborated on such comedies as “Game Night” and “Vacation” and the Marvel film “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Their talents are strewn throughout the film, with dialogue packed with jokes that often find their mark. This might also be attributed to Pine, who is simply too charming for words.

“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” bottles the spirit of the game in the flask of a fantasy adventure even if it fails to reinvent the wheel. Will it become a blockbuster? Put it this way: All of my long-standing D&D gaming pals have already bought tickets.

PG-13. At area theaters. Contains fantasy action and violence and some strong language. 134 minutes.