Let me be the first to say that the trailers for this movie made me decidedly not want to go see it. Well, I am pleasantly surprised to report that the trailers absolutely didn’t do the movie justice. This was a fantastic ride from start to finish, with well-rounded characters, writing, and performances, and some truly fantastic cinematography. Now I am far from an experienced Dungeons and Dragons player, but from the few short campaigns I have played, I am able to say that the best part about this movie is how much it really feels like a game of D&D. The action sequences in particular, while as fast-paced as any other action movie, were very clearly turn-based, and you could tell when a character got a good roll vs a bad roll. Barbarians are known for being overly-powered in combat, it's true, but the barbarian character in this movie went above and beyond that – it was clear that she outleveled all the other players in the campaign. Things like this that could be easily gleaned in the meta by those who play D&D were wonderful little treats. But apart from that, it was just a solidly good movie, so even if you’ve never played D&D in your life, I would recommend going to see it. It’s rare that Hollywood makes a big-budget popcorn that’s so worth seeing nowadays, so this is really something special.
Just like Edgin says in the trailers, the premise revolves around this party who helped the wrong person steal the wrong thing. Now they have to form a new party to undo the harm they’ve inadvertently caused. And like in any campaign, each character has their own backstory, motivations, goals, and personal reasons for being involved. The setup portion of the movie is high energy and only slightly less action-packed than the rest. Being introduced to each character and backstory didn’t slow the pacing down at all, and was just as interesting as everything that happened in the main plot. Once the party was all together, they set off into many classic D&D hijinks - almost every single stereotype and basic happening of D&D was covered in the movie, in a hilarious way that worked within the context of the story.
Now for performances. Chris Pine [Star Trek, Into the Woods, Wonder Woman] was perfect for the role of Edgin Darvis. While the trailers made his comedy seem tacky and forced, in the movie it was actually very natural and suited for each situation. Beyond just being the ha-ha funny bard, his layered performance of Edgin as a whole character was fantastic. He’s a flawed but very caring man, who truly wants the best for his party and his family. Hilga Kilgore (fanTAStic name) was a great straight man for the whole cast. Very stoic and taciturn, but with a true heart and protective of those she considers her family. Playing such a stone-faced character is never easy but Michelle Rodriguez [Fast and the Furious, Avatar, Turbo, S.W.A.T.] pulled it off incredibly well, and was able to give lots of emotion when the situation called for it. The subtle and repressed emotional moments were done with real pathos, as was the one very memorable scene when Holga let her emotions fully show for the first time.
Simon Aumar [Justice Smith – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Paper Towns, Pokeman: Detective Pikachu, All the Bright Places] the Sorcerer also seemed pretty ‘on-the-nose’ from the trailers, but once again, in the actual movie itself he was much more natural. His nervousness and inferiority complex enhanced the story and were performed very well indeed. And Simon’s erstwhile paramour, Doric, the tiefling druid played by Sophia Lillis [Nancy Drew, It, Gretel and Hansel], gave the party its obligatory inclusion of a fantasy race, caste, and nature magic (she’s an unbeatable owl-bear). She was just what they needed to be a fully rounded and complete cast. Her personal story was given the least amount of screen time, but she never felt unnecessary or stuck in. With her reluctance to join in human quests, and her romance gone awry history with Simon, she became an integral part of the group.
Now that we’ve covered the whole party, let’s go over some of the NPCs. Chloe Coleman [My Spy, Big Little Lies, Marry Me] as Edgin’s daughter, Kira, was perfectly cast. This girl is a superb little actress with several credits to her name. I’m excited for her filmmaking future. Hugh Grant [Sense and Sensibility, Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Two Week’s Notice] as Forge was delightfully hateable and a wonderfully greedy nitwit, while at the same time doing things that were truly despicable. A very good balance was struck. And Sophina [Daisy Head – Fallen, Endeavor, Wrong Turn] was a truly pure-evil villain like cinema hasn’t seen for quite a while. Her single-minded devotion to her goal, not caring what happened to any who got in her way, was exactly what she needed to be for the story, and they didn’t try to make her any more than that. A very impressive performance, nonetheless.
And last but not least, the character I probably disliked the most from the trailers ended up being my favorite, Paladin Man! The DM’s ‘helping hand’ to the party through a section they were most certainly NOT high-level enough to traverse on their own, Regé-Jean Page’s [Bridgerton, Roots, Sylvie’s Love] lore-dumping do-gooder fit like a glove just where they needed him to be in the story. Yet everything about him still felt natural and fully drawn. Once again, the comedic aspects of his character were pulled off far better than the trailers made it seem. His chemistry with Pine’s chaotic-good bardish thief delighted our cosplay bedecked opening night movie goers. The obligatory ‘lawful good paladin’ jokes had to be there (we’d be disappointed if they weren’t) and they were brilliantly hilarious. A perfect addition to an already fun-filled flick.
The director (Guy Ritchie), writers, fight choreographers, costumers, makeup artists, art directors and editors must be given credit where credit is due. Without them, the movie wouldn’t have struck the perfect balance between fantastic standalone movie with fully drawn characters, story and world, and very authentic D&D experience. For once we had a medieval magic world not brimming with CGI orcs and goblins all of the same flat grey hue. The music was exciting, yet nuanced to suit each scene. We are entering another decade of fantastic film music composition, enriched and inspired by the rich scoring for the last 20 years in the gaming industry.
The heart and soul at the core of this film was the theme that nothing matters more than family. Doing anything to reunite and be with your family, whether they’re related to you by blood or not, was the main throughline and is something that is incredibly important to me. (I hope it’s incredibly important to most people.) The other important lesson learned over the course of this story was learning to let go, too – let go of the past, of people and situations that are gone and can’t come back or be fixed. And Simon’s own little personal arc was learning to trust and believe in yourself and quite satisfying. All were handled fantastically, and made this movie one of the most complete and enjoyable moviegoing experiences I’ve had in a while.
The movie is rated PG-13, but there was nothing excessive in it. No excessive language, no excessive violence, and nothing sexual at all really. Right at the beginning there’s a scene where a prisoner tells Hilga he’s never had a female cellmate before and he thinks he’ll enjoy it, but she simply takes him out and everyone in their rough and tumble adventure world moves on with their day. Younger kids may be scared by some of the imagery – reanimated corpses (and the ubiquitous violence of meleé combat). But one set of corpses is played for comedy, and the others don’t look very much like corpses; just white and pasty. I would say if you have kids who’ve already seen Indiana Jones or Pirates of the Caribbean, this movie will be just fine.
To finish off: Hollywood hasn’t come out with something this lighthearted and fun, yet so well done, in a long time. I hope everyone will take the chance to see this movie on a big screen the way it’s intended to be seen, to get the full scope of the action and cinematography. No 3-D for this title, but even so, I’d sit 5th row or higher to take in the agility and scope of the fighters, archers, magic users, druids, tieflings, monsters, mercenaries, and of course the Thieves. It’s a great fantasy experience; and missing out on this comedy would be a real tragedy.