May 27, 2023

Film Review: ‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves’ Casts Quite a Spell

Like an amulet possessing inordinate power, Dungeons and Dragons was one of the unattainable objects of desire from my youth. As the pesky younger brother, I was excluded when my older brother and his friends gathered with bags of dice and papers in hand ready to venture out on quests in search of treasure and danger. Like many, I have always felt a disconnect from the game, while craving to be part of the adventure.

After decades of feeling on the wrong side of a bottomless canyon while D&D dangled across the way, bridges have started to be built. First there were the frequent references on Stranger Things. These were followed by The Legend of Vox Machina, an animated series on Prime Video based on the insanely popular Critical Role campaigns. (Look into them, it is quite impressive.) These inspired our very own The ‘Verse! Podcast to start a campaign of their own. Finally after so many years, I was given access to the world of D&D.

This new hands-on connection why the new film Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves immediately drew me in. Though still a novice player at best, often criticized for my mindless gameplay decisions, the concept of D&D made much more sense to me. The good news for those still left in the cold, with no gameplay experience or even the faintest understanding of the rules, the new film does not require any such knowledge. It is a riotously delightful fantasy adventure that not only does not exclude newbs, it also may serve as a gateway to potential players. For those who do play will find plenty of familiar elements, the classes and races, weapons and spells, creatures and creepy settings.

The tale follows our unlikely heroes, bard Edgin (Chris Pine) and the powerful barbarian Holga (Michelle Rodriguez). The pair escape imprisonment only to find Edgin’s daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) along with their stolen riches in the clutches of the predictably untrustworthy conman and former colleague Forge (Hugh Grant). The slick devil is in cahoots with a red wizard name Sofina (Daisy Head) whose powers he used to maintain control of the wealth as well as cooling his “piping hot tea.”

In order to get his daughter back as well as his now stolen, stolen treasure he assembles a band of misfit thieves (the best kind of band) including an insecure and hapless sorcerer names Simon (Justice Smith) and Doric, a shapeshifting druid, (Sophia Lillis) who can transform into massive beasts to the smallest of insects and everything in between. Their quest has a deeper purpose, the stolen treasure contains a magic amulet that will grant Edgin the power to bring his deceased wife back from the dead. For him it is a chance to restore the love and treasure he lost, for the rest it means a chance to not fade away in mediocrity.

Michelle Rodriguez plays Holga, Chris Pine plays Edgin, Sophia Lillis plays Doric and Justice Smith plays Simon in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves from Paramount Pictures and eOne.

There is a lot of exposition up front which moves at a good pace thanks to John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein (the team behind the modern classic comedy, Game Night.) The film’s writers/directors keep the storytelling brisk and the characters a pleasure to hang with – a real challenge with the amount of world-building required for this new attempt at franchise.

If you are looking for comedy or action you never have to wait long for more. The film is stacked with action sequences each bigger than the previous while blending in humor throughout. Fiery canyons, terrifying creatures, mazes, puzzles and even an obese dragon give the film some great kinetic energy. It reminds me of the first Pirates of the Caribbean film that was endless fun, delivering a satisfying time in the theaters for a wide ranging audience. It has something for just about everyone without pandering to the audience. While ultimately somewhat thin on plot, just as in the game; we follow our heroes from task to task – as they figure how to unlock one door they only find another challenge behind it. The simplicity of it all would be more of an issue if I was not having so much fun.

The characters are fleshed out enough to make us really care about them, not the one-dimensional pawns found in some similar genre films. They are defined by much more than their class. As we learn about each of their skills, powers and weaknesses, through their backstories and relationships with each other the stakes of the quest land with much more emotional resonance than I ever expected. 

The chemistry of the core four does not hurt – they’re well seasoned, as if this isn’t their mythical quest. Each one brings something to the mix and grows throughout the journey. There is not a weak link. Pine and Rodriguez, who share a fair portion of the screen time, tackle each conversation and situation with unrefined panache. No matter the challenge, Edgin’s crafty word play and Holga’s brutal brawn combine to solve it in ways that are endlessly entertaining. Lillis and Smith, as Doric and Simon possess some underdog energy that makes them easy to root for as they fumble their way through the gang’s exploits. Also in the mix is a paladin named Xenk (Regé-Jean Page) who helps guide the group. His classic hero tropes are played to the point they become humorous. On the other end of the spectrum is Hugh Grant’s villain Forge whose scenery chewing will make you sit at attention for every frame he is on screen.

The whole film feels like a throwback to adventure films before the days where everything was part of a cinematic universe. For the most part it is self-contained – the backstory provided gives us to be invested and it ends in a way that does not feel like you just committed to a several film arc. If they want to make a sequel, they can easily do another campaign. If not, it works perfectly as a standalone.

Honor Among Thieves is the biggest surprise of the year to date – a rip-roaring adventure, a rewarding roller coaster ride that gets the adrenaline and blood pumping while tickling the funny bone and tugging the heartstrings. The writing is clever, the performances are better than they have any right being, and the visuals are impressive – a healthy does of practical effects mixed in with CGI – drawing on the strengths of each.  The shapeshifting of Doric, the humorous raising of the dead, the creatures that fill just about every scene, castles, dragons and dungeons of course build a world you’re going to enjoy visiting. 

If someone told younger, D&D longing me, that one day I would take my wife and two daughters to a Dungeon and Dragons film, and all would leave praising it, I probably would not have believed it. It is the most accessible action adventure in quite awhile. No matter if the idea of D&D is a draw or a deterrent really does not matter, this is an outlandishly enjoyable, family-friendly film you will want to see with the biggest audience possible. If you are on the fence, get out your D20, roll the dice and enjoy the ride. Let the games begin.



Quick Scan:

“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” delivers a rollicking family-friendly adventure full of laughs, action, and likable characters.

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