‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves’ Review
by Erik Amaya
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure. It is a one-night session to offer newcomers a taste of why D&D endures while also giving the table-top RPG’s fans plenty of specific details and in-jokes. This reviewer admits that, while only playing a handful of games and never a full campaign, he may not have picked up on all the references, but it is a testament to the film’s quality that complete knowledge of the game’s rules or the film’s setting, the Forgotten Realms, is not a requirement.
Chris Pine stars as Edgin Darvis, a former heroic harper who turns rogue after the worst day of his life. We learn this in a cleverly plotted and directed preamble to the adventure. In lieu of an omniscient narrator or text crawl to give audiences some idea of what to expect, the writing/directing duo of Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (along with co-writer Michael Gilio) instead couch the exposition dump inside an explanation of Edgin’s motivation. For anyone who has done a Session Zero, it might even feel familiar. But it is also easy to see how this sequence makes the world more inviting to someone who just wants to see a big budget fantasy movie.
Indeed, Honor Among Thieves seems to have learned from a lot of the mistakes fantasy films have made across the decades and remembers the original Star Wars‘s first principle: leave the world as a setting for the audience to pick apart and ponder.
And this world is populated by a party of likable characters. Edgin is chief among them as Pine’s doofy hero act finds what may be its most natural setting after Wonder Woman‘s first World War. Alongside him is Michelle Rodriguez as the barbarian Holga Kilgore. The part definitely plays on her badass screen persona, but it is also tempered by a sweetness involving Edgin’s daughter and her own broken heart. That said, she still kicks a lot of ass. Joining them for the adventure are Justice Smith as mage Simon and Sophia Lillis as druid Doric. The younger members of the party are quite appealing as Simon has one of the strongest character arcs and Lillis brings an unexpected gravitas to Doric and her situation. That she can do it while wearing horns proves we’ve come along way with fantasy films.
Speaking to that is the entire look of the film. While often bright and sort of cheery, it never slumps over into out-and-out camp. Instead, the world is taken seriously with much of the humor arising from meeting the setting on its own terms. One great example is the film’s dragon, which we won’t spoil, but works so well because of the unexpected yet grounded-in-the-fantasy humor. See also Regé-Jean Page‘s paladin Xenk, who paladins his way through his scenes, but allows some humor to build from just how capable and virtuous his character turns out to be. To an extent, it’s a shame he’s not in it more, but as he is way overpowered when compared to Edgin’s party, it totally makes sense to limit his screen time.
Of course, no movie is perfect, and Honor Among Thieves chief problem is that it takes a while for the momentum to build and for the quest to become clear. Following Edgin’s exposition dump, the movie encounters a number of scenes that have to take place — particularly as they make Hugh Grant‘s place in the narrative clear — but never feel as vital as they should. Luckily, this wears off once Edgin and Holga know what they have to do and start forming the party, but the preceding 10-15 minutes might be a barrier to entry worth noting. Strangely, though, it is a stumbling block entirely based in the filmmaking as opposed to the worldbuilding and we’re not entirely sure how those scenes could be made better without the characters becoming too high energy and obnoxious.
Another note: the film attempts to set up a main antagonist for the potential film series that, really, could have been left for the next installment. Edgin’s struggle here — and the challenges the other party members face — are strong enough without needing to tease out a larger epic tale. The film is built to be a one-session module, so the shadowy appearances of this boss creature is somewhat intrusive.
Nevertheless, the film is a satisfying one-night campaign. The characters state objectives — or have objectives handed to them — and achieve them by growing as characters. Whether or not that’s meant to mimic actual D&D gameplay, it feels absolutely rare for a 21st century film of this scale to resolve so much in one film. Outside of the shadowy antagonist, the movie avoids a lot of the Marvel-style “set-up for later” storytelling and other traps would-be franchise starters fall into these days. Even the obligatory mid-credit stinger scene avoids teasing, say, a Mind Flayer or a character based on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons action figure Warduke.
That sense of completeness leaves Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves with a cozy feeling as you walk from the theater. While we’d be happy to rejoin this party for another quest, their current story is complete and that is worth celebrating. Now, admittedly, a person deeper into D&D may find more to pick at, and any movie will provoke different responses, but we think just getting a genuinely fun and enjoyable Dungeons & Dragons film is akin to rolling a natural twenty. Or, maybe, everyone involved just has a really high charisma stat.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is now in theaters.