Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is the best fantasy film I’ve seen in years! And it’s faithful to the game. Read on for my in-depth thoughts…
Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine) and his best friend Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) quest to find The Tablet of Reawakening: an item with power to restore Edgin’s wife from the dead. More importantly, they wish to save Edgin’s daughter– who’s lived under the manipulative care of their former friend.
Dungeons and Dragons didn’t immediately win me over. Its clunky first act featured a lengthy exposition dump which, while funny, could easily have been doled out. And this killed the pacing such that my expectations for DnD dwindled. Though, in retrospect, I wonder if this scene was to subtly poke fun at those DnD players who tell everyone their backstory in hamfisted scenarios… Anyway, the movie got better– a lot better.
The first act, though flawed, effectively established our core cast. I quickly connected to the characters and wished to see their adventure unfold.
Honor Among Thieves is a type of fantasy story which my life has sorely lacked. ‘Cause it actually brought me joy. 90% of fantasy films these past 20 years are so edgy it’s ridiculous. They all seem to fear silliness, lest *gasp* we don’t take them seriously. Whatever happened to simple, light-hearted adventure stories?
DnD is complex to adapt because there’s no one tone to emulate. Every table’s vibe is unique: some prefer gritty self-seriousness while others revel in ridiculousness. Most intend serious campaigns which often become ridiculous. Honor Among Thieves wisely opted to make silly scenarios (like a comically fat dragon) which the characters take seriously in-universe. They found a perfect balance which ought to satisfy the majority of DnD fans!
But it’s also a great introduction for newbies to the world. Dungeons and Dragons’ writers brilliantly set Honor Among Thieves on The Sword Coast (the DnD starter set’s setting). So anyone who’s tried DnD in the past decade ought to be familiar with the places mentioned, plus the names of some characters and organizations. Yet this level of accessibility works the other way too. ‘Cause people who’ve seen this film and NEVER played DnD can now enter the game with passing familiarity for certain lore.
Onto some character-talk now: Edgin is a layered lead whom Chris Pine plays with immense charm. He’s tragic without being edgy, funny without being a joke, and flawed without being unlikable. He’s the crux of this story and an easy protagonist for which to root. Also, the film WANTS us to believe that he’s a bard… but everything about him signals that he’s a Rogue. Just saying!
My favourite character, however, was Holga. Michelle Rodriguez is mainly stoic, yet plays Holga with nuance. She’s a rageful barbarian, yet she’s kind-hearted, loving, and loyal to her friends. And her lack of intelligence leads to some of the film’s funniest scenes– more than reminiscent of a DnD player who makes awful suggestions.
Hugh Grant is arguably the most entertaining presence in DnD. His delivery consistently drew laughs from me. And his charm was unparalleled. He was easy to love to hate.
Doric (Sophia Lillis) unfortunately received the least character drama in this story. Though she got some of the coolest action moments, so there’s that. My favourite sequence featured her attempted escape from guards, while she shifted into different animals. ‘Twas an awesome showcase for her power, and generally impressive.
Xenk (Regé-Jean Page) and Simon (Justice Smith) were also solid characters. But I have little to say beyond the fact that I liked them. They captured more of my intrigue than emotional investment.
The above characters are based heavily on DnD archetypes, yet the writers avoided the worst clichés associated with them (ex. Edgin is NOT a womanizing bard). So they both subverted and mirrored my expectations in equal measure, which I commend. These characters balance the familiar and the unexpected.
I also admire how these writers weaved certain prejudices into the characters’ backstories. ‘Cause DnD is full of groups and races which hate each other. The film doesn’t delve too deeply into these cultural rifts, but did enough to help the world come alive.
Another great touch ripped from the game: the party’s plans are mostly failures. We the audience stay in suspense, as we never know which ideas will succeed or be dead ends. Somehow the party’s every victory feels earned and their every defeat feels inevitable.
Honor Among Thieves has a good sense of humor. I wouldn’t call it a comedy per se, though it’s more comical than serious. And the jokes won’t always make you laugh out loud but they’re generally amusing. I’ll say this: my face maintained a satisfied grin throughout the film, which is uncommon.
Dungeons and Dragons makes use of practical sets and locations to create an immersive experience. Too often fantasy films rely on CG environments to craft an other-worldly feel. But DnD’s world is fantastical yet tangibly grounded. Its sweeping vistas helped conjure that elusive and hard-to-describe vibe of a grand adventure.
No DnD adventure would be complete without action! So how was that? I’d say decent. Choreography was well-handled, effects were well-rendered, and camera work was energizing.
Though some edits obscured the action more than I’d have liked. I sometimes had difficulty tracking a scene’s geography, or who was fighting whom. These issues were more prevalent in scenes of hand to hand combat.
It would have been easy to make our leads the biggest badasses in the land. But Honor Among Thieves wisely lets its character be above average. Nobody is TOO qualified for this adventure. So every fight feels potentially lethal.
Honor Among Thieves is a pleasing adventure. You might not remember the details, but you’ll remember the feelings. It had a dragon; it had a dungeon. What more do you want?
Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is Pretty Darn Good (and I’m more than up for a sequel).
WANT TO TRY DND? JOE EXPLAINS THE BASICS ON THIS EPISODE OF CLOSE UP:
IN-DEPTH ANALYSES OF THE ABOVE, AND MORE, ON THIS EPISODE OF CLOSE UP:
What would you like to see in a future DnD movie (monsters, locations, magic, etc)? What did you think of Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!
Till next time,