The last serious attempt at a Dungeons & Dragons movie was in 2000, resulting in a critical and commercial bomb (10% on Rotten Tomatoes, grossing just $33.8 million on a $45 million budget) and a legion of angry dungeon masters. Impossibly, two direct-to-DVD sequels were filmed and released in 2005 and 2012, presumably as a prank on nerds. Now that Stranger Things has helped to rehabilitate the image of Dungeons & Dragons, Hollywood decided to roll its twenty-sided dice on another serious attempt at bringing D&D to the silver screen.
The reason Hollywood wants another go at a Dungeons & Dragons film (and potential franchise) is the built-in audience of tens of millions of current D&D players. The tightrope Hollywood must walk is not pissing all over those players’ game the way the 2000 movie emptied its bladder on them. In a sign of good faith, Paramount Pictures and Entertainment One spent $151 million to ensure Honor Among Thieves respects those players and their beloved game. For that amount of money, Honor Among Thieves should be a campaign for the ages.
Since I have played exactly no games of D&D, I cannot tell if the movie satisfies D&D fans with its fan service components. For that matter, I’m not even sure which components are purely fan service. The amount I know about D&D can fit comfortably in a thimble. Whoops – that’s a Monopoly reference. See what I mean? But it looked and sounded like there were a ton of winks and nods to fans. The film’s heroes reference past campaigns and locations and individuals at a furious pace. As little as I know, even I recognized the name Baldur’s Gate, though I haven’t the foggiest idea how or why. And of course, there are dungeons and there are dragons.
Thanks to Stranger Things, I am at least familiar with the basic structure of every D&D campaign. A dungeon master acts as storyteller and host to a party of adventurers who go on a quest. In Honor Among Thieves, Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine) acts as the dungeon master, though he is also one of the adventurers. Throughout the film, Edgin provides exposition and back story while also gathering a party to complete his personal campaign. I assume this is a good thing and mirrors other campaigns because Edgin pretty much never stops talking.
The main quest is Edgin reuniting his family. He seeks a tablet that can be used to resurrect his murdered wife and must also convince his estranged daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) to come home with him. The very short backstory is Edgin became a thief after the death of his wife, culminating in his arrest and imprisonment and Kira becoming a ward of the Lord of Neverwinter, Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant). Forge was part of Edgin’s original party that attempted to steal the tablet, Forge betraying Edgin with the help of a Red Wizard named Sofina (Daisy Head) and taking the tablet, along with a bunch of treasure for himself. I promise that really is the short version and would sound a lot cooler if you imagine me wearing a robe, holding a staff, and waving my arms around theatrically.
The party Edgin assembles for the quest sounds as D&D as one can imagine. There is a barbarian named Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez), a paladin named Xenk Yendar (Rege-Jean Page), a sorcerer named Simon Aumar (Justice Smith), and a shapeshifting druid named Doric. They’re all part of guilds or descended from someone important and each has a special talent that is required for them to complete the quest. If you have questions about them, just be patient. Edgin will explain everything and everyone.
Like any good quest, the adventurers must first find a couple of special items before they can confront the final boss. These little side quests are what makes this movie fun. One quest leads them to a graveyard and some fun laughs. Another leads them to an underground city filled with action and a fat dragon. If this is what a real-life D&D campaign looks like, I’ve been missing out.
Like any action movie with this many moving parts, there are flaws. Sofina is underdeveloped and her motivation is very generic. The conclusion includes a component that is far too predictable. And Xenk and Doric are underused, especially Xenk, who just leaves them after a side quest. Fortunately, the rest of the movie is strong enough to prevent these flaws from impacting the overall product.
While Honor Among Thieves isn’t so great it makes me want to get into LARPing, it was good enough that I want there to be a sequel. Maybe even play a game or two. I quite enjoyed the story and performances. The actors were clearly enjoying themselves, even Michelle Rodriguez who in most movies appears to be pissed off at someone or something just off screen. It’s a very entertaining film that understands what it is, but doesn’t lean so far into it that falls into a pile of Funyuns in its mom’s basement. The roll of the dice came up favorably.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back or you’ll anger the dungeon master.