It’s weird to think that in the span of 23 years since the last theatrical Dungeons & Dragons movie, the niche game has become a lot more popular, widely accepted, and acknowledged within popular culture. You can mostly thank series like Critical Role and Stranger Things for bringing it into more mainstream media, but for a hobby that was once seen as the epitome of geek culture and was even seen by religious groups as satanic, to see it get positive attention and appeal is somewhat vindicating as a nerd. The fact that I’m seeing and hearing about people being excited to see Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves says a lot about how audiences are more open and receptive to what many consider to be peak nerd culture.
It’s also something that I’ve dabbled in myself in recent years. I always wanted to try it out and see what the hype was. I wanted to make my own character and go on adventures with a party of friends, role-playing our way from conflict to conflict. The highs of it are wonderfully entertaining, while the low points can be devastating. As a matter of fact, in my last session my character, a Tiefling Bard named Pride, died and I had to reroll a new character. It was a devastating loss for me, sure, but we all laughed about it and had a great time that session, leaving us with a fun story to tell and reference back to with my party of adventurers.
If Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is to succeed, it needs to capture that magic of going on an adventure and making it gripping with a well-developed party of heroes. It doesn’t always do that, but it succeeds often enough to make it worth a watch. Or, to put it in DnD terms, the film isn’t really a nat 20, but it still hits.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
Director: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Release Date: March 31, 2023 (Theatrical)
Edgin (Chris Pine) and Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez) start off the film incarcerated in jail. Edgin is a single father who was left widowed after his wife was killed by a Red Wizard, but he eventually encountered Holga and the pair helped to raise Edgin’s daughter by thieving and robbing those in power. The two are thrown in jail for failing a robbery thanks to being betrayed by the person who hired them, a Red Wizard named Sofina (Daisy Head). The two of them stage a breakout and go off to find Edgin’s daughter, who was kept under the protection of one of their old party members, Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant), while they were incarcerated. The pair realizes that Forge teamed up with Sofina to gain power and has been deceiving Edgin’s daughter for years and attempts to have the two executed when they confront him about it, but they manage to escape before losing their lives. Edgin then vows to save his daughter and get revenge on both Forge and Sofina, stopping whatever evil plan the pair has concocted.
As far as fantasy stories go, Honor Among Thieves is a pretty serviceable title. If you’re someone who is a fan of the game, then there are just the right amount of references and teases at a larger world to keep fans satisfied without feeling pandered to. I know I perked up a little bit when a side character began to talk about the Cult of the Dragon, the antagonists within the campaign I’m playing in currently. It hits all of the notes that a movie of this genre should hit, though, for people that are uninitiated with the series, I can see why some may call it unoriginal.
See, the thing is that Dungeons & Dragons wrote the book on a lot of fantasy tropes that have become prevalent in the years since its inception. If we’re ever playing a fantasy game or watching a fantasy movie, we’re cautious of going up to a treasure chest because we’re aware it could be a mimic in disguise. D&D proliferated so many concepts that have become so ingrained in the genre that now these tropes seem familiar and basic nowadays. That’s not really a knock against the movie mind you, but it can’t help but feel familiar given how widespread many of its ideas have become and how safe it ends up feeling because of this.
What does feel unique to the film is the wider world it establishes. If this were to start a franchise (which seems highly likely at this point if it’s profitable), there are just enough loose threads that are left open that could potentially lead to new stories or adventures with a new cast. However, Honor Among Thieves does not sequel bait and leave this story unresolved. By the time the credits roll, we’ve seen the story reach its logical conclusion and the characters come to some kind of resolution.
Speaking of, except for Chris Pine and Hugh Grant who really are having a blast with their roles, a lot of the characters feel underdeveloped. If we’re going by the phrase “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” the time we spend with our crew of adventurers should be where the true excitement lies. It’s one of the joys of going on a campaign with people, interacting with one another to solve problems and you get to know everyone’s backstories and motivations. Except for Edgin’s very fleshed-out origins, the rest of the party just seems to be along for the ride, getting maybe a scene or two of development before moving on. We feel like passengers as well but ones that are kept at a distance from actually getting to know them in any meaningful way.
If we’re going through the analogy of this being about the journey and not how it ends, then that’s probably for the best given that the ending is the weakest part of the film. Once we discover that there is a magical artifact that Forge possesses that can revive one person and only one person, you can predict exactly how the climax is going to operate beat for beat. Again, it’s nice that the film actually has a definitive ending for its characters and doesn’t try to set up more sequels for the sake of sequels, but it’s a safe ending that feels all too familiar.
Despite it being a very safe film, it’s still a fun time. I didn’t dislike any of the action scenes and the comedy that is present hits more than it misses, including a few Monty Python references for good measure. I couldn’t help but compare the humor of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves with the humor of Shazam!: Fury of the Gods and why this worked while the other didn’t. With Shazam! it felt like the humor in that movie was obnoxious and constantly meant to serve in place of any character development and poke fun at the situations. Here, while the humor does oftentimes poke fun at the conflicts our heroes end up in, it still delivers the seriousness they need and doesn’t feel like the writing needs to constantly crack jokes to keep audiences’ attention. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves has enough confidence that its story is entertaining enough, and it is.
This isn’t a revolutionary film by any means, and I almost will certainly forget about it by the end of April, but I had fun watching it. The film knew exactly what it wanted to be and delivered a competent version of a fantasy adventure movie. It’s not perfect by any means, but you could tell that Honor Among Thieves is more interested in just having fun with the setting and the tropes than telling a meaningful story. Sometimes I just want to watch a bunch of heroes fighting a morbidly obese dragon while being chased by zombie cultists, and by God, I got that.