Dungeons and Dragons is simultaneously one of the easiest and most complicated IPs to adapt into a film. On the one hand, D&D is specifically designed to be open and accessible in a way that allows anybody to tell basically any story they can imagine. But with that in mind, how do you make a movie feel like a Dungeons and Dragons movie and not simply a generic fantasy story?
Release Date: March 31, 2023
Directed By: John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
Written By: John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein and Michael Gilio
Starring: Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Regé-Jean Page, and Hugh Grant.
Rating: PG-13 for fantasy action/violence and some language
Runtime: 134 minutes
In the case of Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, this is largely accomplished by blending the traditional fantasy action you would expect from a film of that title, with something traditional fantasy movies don't usually have but that any D&D player will be familiar with: the fact that things can get awfully silly.
Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves introduces us to Edgin the bard (Chris Pine) and Holga the barbarian (Michelle Rodriquez). They’ve spent two years in prison for attempting to steal from the Harpers, Edgin’s former faction of noble heroes. This has separated him from his daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman), and since Edgin’s wife died many years ago, the bard needs to get back home.
The duo escapes and discovers that a former member of their crew, Forge (Hugh Grant) has raised Kira as his own, and used their ill-gotten gains to make himself the Lord of Neverwinter. He’s also partnered with a wizard named Sofina (Daisy Head) who clearly has plans of her own. Edgin and Holga must form a new crew to get Kira back, and maybe steal some of his wealth for themselves. They enlist another former ally, sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith), and a Druid named Doric (Sophia Lillis) with a score to settle to their cause. They also get help from Paladin Xenk (Regé-Jean Page).
Honor Among Thieves has plenty for Dungeons and Dragons fans, but it will be enjoyable even if you’ve never rolled a d20.
Fans of Dungeons and Dragons will feel very at home watching Honor Among Thieves. All the names of places and monsters and spells and everything else come right out of the core rulebooks for playing the game. The references and easter eggs are quite plentiful for those people who will recognize them.
The best elements of the game brought to life, however, are even more subtle than that. It’s the way that the adventure results in the heroes going on a necessary side quest before they can progress toward their primary objective, because of course they do. It’s the way that Xenk the Paladin, who is not technically a member of the adventuring party, is incredibly overpowered compared to our heroes, and speaks as if he belongs in a different movie... because he's an NPC who has been inserted into the quest to take the characters down a particular path. The elements in Honor Among Thieves that are taken from the game go beyond the surface level.
At the same time, nothing about the tabletop RPG is required reading to enjoy the film. Anybody who has seen the Lord of the Rings or just about any other traditional fantasy story already knows enough to follow along. While the film makes a point to introduce you to the iconic owlbear by name, it never wastes its time reciting the stat block for a displacer beast or a gelatinous cube. If you know what it is, great, and if not, the movie will explain everything you need to know within the context of the story, with no massive info dumps required.
Dungeons & Dragons Honor Among Thieves expertly balances humor, heart, and action.
The main thing that sets Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves apart from those more traditional fantasy stories is that it’s actually quite funny. This is probably where the film best exemplifies its source material because while D&D most of the time, plays things straight when it comes to the actual story, things can sometimes get a little ridiculous when it comes to the players.
Sometimes when Edgin and his party execute a plan, things go mostly as expected, and you get a well-choreographed action sequence or a cool heist moment. Other times, the plan does not survive for more than a moment before everything goes to hell in a hand cart and the characters have to improvise fast to avoid ending up dead – just as might happen during any player campaign.
The balance of action and humor is handled excellently by directors and co-screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. At no point does the humor make the action any less exciting and the action, when taken seriously, never makes the humor feel out of place. The old joke is that every group of D&D players thinks they’re the Fellowship of the Ring, but they end up as Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves walks the line between the two perfectly.
The ensemble cast of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is the perfect adventuring party.
While Chris Pine’s Edgin is the main character of our story, and his arc gives us the emotional throughline of the story, a proper Dungeons and Dragons story is an ensemble, and Honor Among Thieves handles this one remarkably well. Each member of the group of heroes is three-dimensional (ish) and each one has a character arc. None of those arcs are particularly deep or complex, as the movie has a lot of ground to cover in its two-hour and 15-minute run time, but everybody has one, and they are complete, and that's something.
Michelle Rodriguez gets to kick all of the ass and she appears to have an absolutely fantastic time while she does it. But she also gets to show a vulnerable side that, while it’s played for laughs, still works. Sophia Lillis’ druid Doric has the least satisfying arc as her character is given less time to develop than the others, but she also has one of the best action sequences in the film to herself, so we’ll call it square.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, being a modern tentpole product, leaves itself open to potential sequels, but like any D&D sourcebook, could just as easily launch any number of spinoffs using new characters and a fresh adventure. There are near-endless permutations of this material if there is an audience there for it all.
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