Following an infamously bad adaptation (which we wrote a whole piece about) and two direct to video sequels most people never heard of, it seemed that “Dungeons & Dragons” was simply meant to be relegated to references in TV shows like The Big Bang Theory, Community, and Stranger Things.
With high fantasy largely dying out as a trend around the mid 2010s, it seemed that the iconic RPG game would never get a proper cinematic adaptation that did justice to the game itself, while also being an entertaining and thrilling movie. Until 2023 of course, with the release of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.
Boasting a solid ensemble cast, and a rapid joke per minute tone, the movie was reportedly inspired by Guardians of the Galaxy and it very much shows. And while sometimes it does borrow a bit too heavily from that idea, it almost feels like what Marvel movies used to be, while giving fans of the classic game an actual good movie to enjoy.
Collection of Sidequests
The film opens with a desolate dungeon on an icy tundra. Here we meet our “heroes” Edgin (Chris Pine) and Holga (Michelle Rodriquez). Along with their ragtag group of misfits, they plan to rescue Edgin’s estranged daughter as well as rob Forge (Hugh Grant), their con artist former colleague who betrayed them.
Their party includes a sorcerer lacking confidence, Simon (Justice Smith), a shape-shifting tiefling named Doric (Sophia Lillis), and a paladin named Xenk (Regé-Jean Page) who doesn’t understand sarcasm.
Without getting into any spoilers, the plot definitely feels like a series of quests strung together for one larger quest. In order for them to achieve one goal, they need to retrieve a specific item, and in order to do that, they need to go to a specific place, and so on and so forth. But that’s very much in the spirit of what D&D is all about.
We see everything from a large city to small villages to a creepy graveyard to an icy dungeon, to a hellish nether realm. It really makes use of its fantasy setting, allowing for world-building without the constant need for exposition. One of the most annoying things a film can do is world-build by having characters discuss facts that they all should already know.
Honor Among Thieves trusts its audience to follow these characters and their story, while picking up pieces of the world along the way. The result is a fantasy setting that feels very lived in, as if each background extra could be the subject of their own quest and their own movie. And because this is essentially a heist movie, the stakes feel low and grounded. There’s no world-ending threat (at least not for most of it).
“Guardians of Middle Earth”
The writing team’s ultimate goal was to make a film that didn’t take itself too seriously, but that never devolved into parody, and they very successfully pulled that off. The characters joke and riff on each other, even having conversations about the limits of magic. But it never feels like they’re mocking the subject itself. It feels like they’re a group of people who might be playing D&D and just joking around with each other.
Some have compared its theme and tone to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and that’s a very apt comparison. Both deal with a group of ragtag misfits who come together with not the most pure motives, but end up saving the day in the end. Both have a lovable idiot lead (both named Chris), with a female sidekick who kicks some serious ass, and a very strong character who does take everything seriously and doesn’t understand sarcasm.
In a lot of ways, Honor Among Thieves feels like a Marvel movie, even featuring a mid-credit scene. But it takes all the right lessons and for a movie that’s essentially just about quests and based on a game that people play for fun, it’s a great deal of fun itself. One of the major criticisms of the 2000 adaptation was that it treated itself too dramatically, and thus its flaws were all the more apparent.
Honor Among Thieves certainly has its share of flaws here and there (it drags a bit in the 3rd act and could easily shave 20 minutes off its 2+ hour runtime), but the audience is so busy being dazzled and having a good time, that issues like this become less of a big deal.
We also can’t discuss this movie without giving proper praise to the astounding ensemble cast. No one here is miscast and there’s not a single weak link among them. Chris Pine shows his experience as a suave leading man with tons of charisma, but he seems to have a lot fun playing the lovable idiot who improvises his way to success (a trait the movie shows as useful and not a joke).
Michelle Rodriguez playing a badass isn’t exactly a stretch for her for anyone who’s seen any Fast and Furious movie. Justice Smith and Sophia Lillis are younger, but they hold their own and almost feel like a yin and yang to each other in terms of abilities and personalities.
But the person clearly having the most fun here is Hugh Grant. He almost feels like a Monty Python villain in how his character is a satire of everything “posh” in English culture. His signature awkwardness that always got laughs in countless romantic comedies 20+ years ago serve him well as a very believable con man, in that he even has himself fooled sometimes that he’s not a terrible person.
Not to mention, and this may seem like a weird detail to focus on, it’s refreshing to see a fantasy epic that actually has characters with American accents. For a long time, most medieval fantasy movies were filled with British actors and the few Americans who were there had to fake their accents.
Now this movie certainly has its share of Brits (like Hugh Grant and Justice Smith), but it also allows many Americans to keep their accents because this is a fictional kingdom that doesn’t have to be an exact stand-in for England in the Dark Ages.
Getting D&D Right
However, the greatest accomplishment Honor Among Thieves pulls off is in how it finally gives D&D fans a movie that not only respects and loves its source material, but very much feels like a quest itself. We watch as Chris Pine’s character has to improvise as he goes and come up with new plans as things go wrong. In a lot of ways he feels like an audience surrogate for the countless fans watching who regularly play D&D.
Unlike other beloved IPs, D&D isn’t necessarily based around a specific character that fans will complain about being done “wrong”. Rather it’s the setting and the very spirit of adventure that is the essence of D&D, and that’s what this movie adapted perfectly.
It could very easily be the start of a franchise of films set in this world, that wouldn’t even half to directly follow this one. Sure you could do a direct sequel, but you could also do a million other quests with different characters and play around with tone and subgenre. This was an adventure/comedy, but you could just as easily do a straight up horror film or more of a gritty action film. There’s absolutely no limit.
Overall, Honor Among Thieves is the incredibly fun and entertaining D&D movie that we didn’t even know was possible, and it might just be the exact medicine we need for the current superhero fatigue that’s plaguing two large franchises that are having subpar box office numbers right now!
What did you think of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves? Do you hope to see it continue into its own franchise? Let us know in the comments!
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