Review: ‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves’ breaks through fantasy stereotypes
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves might be an epic fantasy blockbuster based on the popular tabletop game, but it isn’t the first time the property has made it onto the big screen. There was the terrible 2000 movie of the same name that ended up launching a trilogy, while there was also a 1983 animated series. Let’s not forget The Legends of Vox Machina, either a Prime Video show based on the Critical Role livestreams. Paramount has a lot of work to do if it wants to make its D&D movie stand out, but did it manage to roll a nat 20 on persuasion and performance?
The film starts its story in a not-so-obvious way. Two of our heroes, Edgin – a bard (played by Chris Pine) and Michelle Rodriguez’s barbarian Holga are trapped in a prison cell due to a heist that went wrong. From there, our bard retells how he and his partner in crime got into this mess. Edgin reveals that not only is he a father, but was also part of a group called “The Harpers,” a group of people tasked to stop bad guys. One of them is known as a member of “The Red Wizards,” magical beings who use their powers for darkness.
These evil magic users managed to locate where Edgin’s family resides, which caused the death of his wife, although his daughter survived. From there, he broke his oath which led to a life of thievery with his own party members and daughters, until things went downhill and he and Holga got arrested.
What sets this fantasy apart from other D&D-like media is that it managed to break the conventions on what makes Dungeons & Dragons the game we know and love. From the get-go, it makes it clear that our heroes are terrible people, and they’ve started their journey stealing things from others in an unscrupulous. Also, they’re losers. They’re not noble and recognized heroes who decided to work together to save the world; they’ve united for a common cause to rob and steal stuff from the wealthy, as long as nobody gets hurt.
At the same time, it should be praised for not using too many D&D/fantasy stereotypes like “the horny bard” or “the wise wizard.” Instead, it gives our characters more depth due to their backstories and motives. Speaking of their backstories, while it may seem like the film likes to churn out origin stories left and right, it does help with the world-building and adds to the storytelling, which is funny since this is something you’d expect in a D&D game. However, if you’re watching this with zero context on the source material, these segues do slow things down quite a bit.
There’s also a worthy debate about the dialogue used throughout. For someone who is not familiar with the games, it may all sound campy and cheesy. However, this is how actual party members and characters sound in a real-life D&D session. Heck, this is the same type of verbiage that’s seen in other associated media like Critical Role. At least the writers try to make it fun or comedic whenever these types of moments happen, but compensate for it during the serious and emotional moments.
Despite its flaws, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves knows what type of film it is, and has fun along the way. Did you expect to see a magical hand-wrestling competition during the final combat? Or a big fat red dragon attacking everyone? Or our heroes questioning multiple corpses in order to locate an ancient relic? No. But these are things that could happen in a D&D session thanks to the players’ imagination. So props to the film’s directors and screenwriters Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley for using so much creativity to bring it to life.
However, if it were to stand on its own feet without a Dungeons & Dragons label on it, or if viewers were to come in blind and with zero experience playing the game, a lot of things that make the film entertaining might go over those people’s heads. Also, there might be those who would complain about “the lack of dragons” since there are barely any seen onscreen.
If you really want to enjoy Honor Among Thieves, you need to throw away what you know about fantasy adaptations and forget what you’ve already seen in the genre. This isn’t a movie based on the existing lore of Dungeons & Dragons, nor is it about “dungeons” or “dragons.” This is a theatrical recreation of what a tabletop session would look like, and how one would imagine their session would be if it was translated onto the screen. And the result is a film about a group of underdog adventurers who will be making a lot of mistakes, but at the same time will do whatever it takes to get the job done.
'Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves' manages to put a winning spin on the fantasy genre with its high-stakes plot, compelling characters, and a huge world with opportunities to share more stories.