Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Review: A Fun Fantasy That Overcomes a Rough Start

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves gets off to a slow start but quickly becomes an enjoyable blockbuster film that mixes action, humor, and heart. The new movie directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein leverages the rich world of Dungeons & Dragons to tell the same kind of story that one would tell when playing an actual Dungeons & Dragons game, with a group of misfit characters overcoming the odds to complete a specific mission and save the world in the process. While neither the characters nor the plot of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves are particularly unique, the movie captures the balance of humor and heart found in the best kinds of Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, although it takes a bit for the movie to truly find its groove.

Dungeons & Dragons was the first tabletop roleplaying game, a way for players to collaboratively tell a story about heroes and villains in a fantasy world aided with the roll of some dice and a collection of spells, character roles, and monsters that became its own distinctive type of fantasy story. Multiple worlds have been built for Dungeons & Dragons, primarily meant to aid players in telling their own stories around the table. But Hollywood has never quite figured out how to successfully adapt Dungeons & Dragons – a 1980s CBS cartoon focused on people from the "real world" trapped in the world in the game, while a trilogy of terrible live action films used a hodge podge of D&D monsters and spells as trappings for a generic fantasy story. Luckily, Daley and Goldstein seem to have figured out the successful formula for adapting Dungeons & Dragons into a passable movie, which coincidentally matches the formula for creating the best kind of introductory D&D campaign – using an established world to enhance a story without overwhelming it. 

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
(Photo: Paramount Pictures and eOne)

Set in the Forgotten Realms, perhaps the most well-known of Dungeons & Dragons' many worlds, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves focuses on Edgin (Chris Pine) and Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), a pair of thieves trying to get their lives back after a burglary gone bad. After a daring escape from prison, Edgin and Holga discover that their former partner Forge (a painfully bored Hugh Grant) has become a powerful politician in the city of Neverwinter and has successfully swayed Edgin's daughter against them. Upon learning that Forge was responsible for Edgin and Holga's incarceration, the duo recruit their old friend Simon (Justice Smith) and newcomer Doric (Sophia Lillis) to take revenge on Forge and his wizard ally Sofina (Daisy Head.) 

The introductory act of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is awkward and rough at times, almost as if both the cast and script weren't quite sure what to do with the source material. The exposition can be rough, especially as characters explain their entire backstories with almost embarrassing straightforwardness. However, once the movie stops telling viewers about the characters' motivations and personalities and abilities and start showing us what they can do instead, the movie really hits the ground running and ultimately finds its charm. 

The turning point of the film hinges on the introduction of Xenk, a folk hero-type of paladin played by Rege-Jean Page, who assists the characters at a critical moment. Xenk sends the movie into its next gear, providing a sense of clear purpose for the adventuring party and giving them something to react to. Although his appearance in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is relatively brief, Page is a breakout star in his role and seems destined to be a future face of a potential Dungeons & Dragons franchise, especially as his character is tied to the teased "big bad" Szass Tam.

Outside of Page, the core cast mostly seem to understand their parts well. Pine oozes charisma even when he's confronting his personal failures while Smith finds a way to play up his character's self-doubt without being too exasperating. I also enjoyed that Rodriguez's Holga relied more heavily on stoicism and assuredness than the rage that typically defines a D&D barbarian. Each hero also had their own struggles to overcome – Pine's Edgin is still dealing with the grief of losing his spouse, Holga is grappling with the loss of two families, and Simon struggles to live up to an impressive family pedigree and has his magic constantly sabotaged by his own self-doubt. Only Doric the Druid remains static in the film – she admits to being prejudiced against humans but it feels like her growth is passive as she continuously goes along with her newfound allies shenanigans. 

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Surprisingly, the weakest acting comes from the villains –  Hugh Grant mails in a half-hearted performance, and Daisy Head's Sofina is generic and forgettable. The latter is probably a flaw of the script, but Grant's performance is solely comprised of a sheepish smile and lines delivered with all the sincerity of someone trying to get back to his trailer. The lack of a good villain is perhaps the biggest flaw of the movie, although Forge's presence and history provides a lot of motivation for the characters, their actual appearances and actions in the movie are sadly too brief and too generic to be rememberable.

The action sequences are mostly tight and take full advantage of the weirdness of Dungeons & Dragons. From a sequence where Doric escapes from Castle Never using her vaunted Wild Shape ability to a fun bit where Simon attempts to escape a crowd of angry theatre-goers using his unpredictable magic, the movie really shines when the characters actually do Dungeons & Dragons things. Easily the best part of the film is an extended scene in the Underdark where the characters (and their Thayan pursuers) are chased by Themberchaud, a delightfully rotund red dragon. Themberchaud's rampage is both deadly and rambunctious and you can't help but root for the dragon a little as he literally rolls after the party in search of quick snack. 

Although Themberchaud is CGI, the movie also incorporates practical effects as much as they can, especially when it comes to humanoid (or formerly humanoid) characters. The tabaxi, the aarakocra, the yuan-ti, and animated corpses all seem to use practical effects, which lends a bit of authenticity and charm to the movie, almost as if its paying homage to classic fantasy films like Dark Crystal and Neverending Story that knew that movie magic was more than some post-production effects. One of my biggest worries with Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is that it would be a CGI slog, but thankfully the filmmakers knew to save the CGI only for the parts that they couldn't replicate with puppetry and practical effects. 

Overall, I enjoyed Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, despite its opening act flaws. It captures a bit of the joy and fun that comes from playing a Dungeons & Dragons game, while being faithful (but not too serious) to the source material. By figuring out that the strength of Dungeons & Dragons isn't the rules of the game or the worlds that support it, but rather the intrinsic fun that comes with getting into fantasy shenanigans with people you like, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is both enjoyable and a true representation of the game itself. 

Rating: 4 out of 5