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Dungeons & Dragons Review:

Honor Among Thieves

By Cindy WilliamsPublished about a year ago 8 min read
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The introductions to “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” at the SXSW Film Festival emphasized that they “made this movie for everyone.” There’s clearly a concern that the film may not reach outside the demographic of people who once played or still play the wildly influential role-playing game. And there should be because branding can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it targets a massive fan base already familiar with an IP. On the other hand, a film has to be good enough to break out of that familiarity to reach a wider audience—think of how well “The Last of Us” is playing to viewers who never played the game. So how will fans of Dungeons & Dragons respond to this expensive foray into their favorite fantasy experience? Paramount is rolling a 20-sided die and hoping to get the right number, but the fickle Dungeon Master of Hollywood may have a fatal surprise around the next corner.

The truth is that the game Dungeons & Dragons is often at its best when it’s at its most ridiculously unpredictable and downright silly. Co-writer/directors Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley and co-writer Michael Gilio attempt to recreate that “we need a plan” structure of the game in a script that feels like it's often making itself up as it goes along. Or pretending to do so. While that’s an ambitious way to approach a fantasy film, it can make for oddly unsatisfying stretches of the final product by eliminating stakes and forcing lightheartedness. Manufactured spontaneity is almost impossible, and too much of “Honor Among Thieves” feels like it’s unfolding with a wink and a nod instead of being legitimately rough around the edges, in-the-moment, and fresh. There are stretches of “Honor Among Thieves” that have the whimsical chaos of Sam Raimi’s “Army of Darkness”—including a great sequence involving the talking dead—and the film often recalls the “ragtag team of saviors” tone of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Still, the film often plays out like it’s faking what the creators love about the game instead of trying to translate it from one medium to another.

The typically charming Chris Pine plays Edgin Darvis, a former member of a group called the Harpers. After his wife is killed by an evil group known as the Red Wizards, Edgin tries to execute a heist to retrieve an item that can bring her back to life, but he’s betrayed, imprisoned with his BFF Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez), a stoic barbarian. In a clever sequence, the pair escapes and discover that Edgin’s daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) has been taken in and lied to by their team’s former ally Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant). The rogue betrayed Edgin and the team in several ways, including partnering with a vicious Red Wizard named Sofina (Daisy Head).

Edgin and Holga have several missions in this D&D campaign: Save Kira, get revenge on Forge, stop the Red Wizards, and maybe find some loot along the way. The mission will reunite them with an unconfident wizard named Simon (Justice Smith), a shapeshifting druid named Doric (Sophia Lillis), and a charming paladin named Xenk (Regé-Jean Page). Like any “team of heroes” movie, these characters each bring different skill sets that the group will need to accomplish their goals, and the writers pepper the film with odd hurdles for the group to overcome, including a clever sequence involving some undead enemies and a chubby dragon in a dungeon.

If it all sounds like it’s more for fantasy gamers than “everyone,” well, it undeniably is. The film is filled with references to D&D—name drops like “Baldur’s Gate” and “Neverwinter” created audible responses during the premiere—but I wouldn’t go as far as to say the film won’t work at all for people who have never made a character for a campaign. Most of the references here will sound like depth for non-gamers who may see more parallels to products like “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Witcher” than their actual source. It’s a film that’s rich in fantasy terminology in a way that seems like its creators affectionately remember creating characters in their mom's basement when they were young. That genuine interest in the lore of D&D may be enough for some people. But what about everyone else?

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Affection for a source doesn’t always translate to execution in terms of craft, and the filmmaking here is shoddy. In terms of the flashes and bangs, "Honor Among Thieves" works much better when it focuses on practical effects (or at least ones that look practical—everything is CGI nowadays) and can find a tactile quality that the CGI-heavy sequences lack. When Edgin and his team are waking up corpses to get information, or Sofina is merely scowling in her malevolent makeup, the film is more grounded than when it’s drifting off in magic-driven sequences of people casting spells both willy and nilly. There’s also a lack of world-building in a movie that should be dense with it when it comes to design. Forge’s city looks like a generic fantasy video game setting, and the opportunity to craft interesting backdrops for these varied characters is rarely taken. It looks like a film that's going to age poorly visually.

The cast is reasonably strong, with Pine leaning into the rough charisma I’ve always thought would have made him a massive star in the ‘60s. All of the cast was clearly chosen to play to their strengths, with Grant amplifying his smarm and Rodriguez kicking ass when needed. Relative newcomers Smith and Lillis are effective, too, with the former finding some vulnerability and the latter being consistently engaging as she uncertainly becomes a hero

What’s most shocking about “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is how little meat there is on these reanimated bones, even with a bloated 139-minute runtime. When a cast of characters runs from plan A to plan B and back to plan A, the constant motion doesn’t allow for much else. Most of this film is “What we do now?” Again, that's fun with friends, less so when you have no control over the answer.

"Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" premiered at the SXSW Film Festival with a lot of hype and enthusiasm from fans of the role-playing game. The filmmakers emphasized that they wanted to make a movie for everyone, not just fans of the game. However, it remains to be seen whether or not the film will reach a wider audience outside of its dedicated fanbase. The branding of the Dungeons & Dragons game could be a double-edged sword for the film, as it already has a massive fan base but also has to be good enough to appeal to a wider audience. This review will explore the film's plot, characters, world-building, and visual effects in-depth and assess whether or not the film is successful in its efforts to appeal to both fans and non-fans of the game.

The plot of "Honor Among Thieves" follows a former member of a group called the Harpers named Edgin Darvis, played by Chris Pine. After his wife is killed by an evil group known as the Red Wizards, Edgin tries to execute a heist to retrieve an item that can bring her back to life. However, he is betrayed and imprisoned with his BFF Holga Kilgore, played by Michelle Rodriguez, a stoic barbarian. They escape and discover that Edgin's daughter Kira, played by Chloe Coleman, has been taken in and lied to by their team's former ally Forge Fitzwilliam, played by Hugh Grant. Forge betrayed Edgin and the team in several ways, including partnering with a vicious Red Wizard named Sofina, played by Daisy Head.

Edgin and Holga have several missions in this D&D campaign: Save Kira, get revenge on Forge, stop the Red Wizards, and maybe find some loot along the way. The mission will reunite them with an unconfident wizard named Simon, played by Justice Smith, a shapeshifting druid named Doric, played by Sophia Lillis, and a charming paladin named Xenk, played by Regé-Jean Page. Like any "team of heroes" movie, these characters each bring different skill sets that the group will need to accomplish their goals, and the writers pepper the film with odd hurdles for the group to overcome, including a clever sequence involving some undead enemies and a chubby dragon in a dungeon.

The film attempts to recreate the structure of a D&D game, where the players have to come up with a plan and think on their feet to overcome obstacles. However, this approach can make the film feel disjointed and unsatisfying at times, as it eliminates stakes and forces lightheartedness. The film feels like it's often making itself up as it goes along, which can be an ambitious way to approach a fantasy film, but it can also make the film feel like it's faking what the creators love about the game instead of trying to translate it from one medium to another.

The characters in the film are reasonably strong, with Pine playing the role of Edgin Darvis with his typically charming charisma. The rest of the cast is well-suited to their roles, with Grant amplifying his smarminess and Lillis bringing a sense of gravitas to her character's backstory. However, the film doesn't spend enough time developing the characters, and they often feel like they're just there to move the plot along. There's a lack of emotional investment in the characters, which can make it difficult for the audience to care about their journey.

The film's world-building is also lacking, with Forge's city looking like a generic fantasy video game setting. The opportunity to craft interesting backdrops for these varied characters is rarely taken, which can make the film feel like it's missing a sense of place. The film is rich in fantasy terminology,

In conclusion, "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" is a film that will undoubtedly appeal to fans of the popular role-playing game. It's clear that the filmmakers had a deep affection for the game and wanted to capture its spirit on the big screen. However, despite the charming cast and moments of whimsical chaos, the film ultimately falls short of its lofty ambitions.

The movie's biggest flaw is its inconsistent tone. The filmmakers seem to be trying to balance the film's humor and lightheartedness with more serious and emotionally resonant moments. However, the result is a film that feels like it's constantly at odds with itself, and that ultimately undermines the stakes of the story. While some sequences work well, others feel forced and inauthentic, which makes the overall experience feel unsatisfying.

Additionally, the film's lack of world-building and visually uninspired settings are a missed opportunity to immerse the audience in the fantastical world of Dungeons & Dragons. While some practical effects are impressive, the overuse of CGI and generic design choices make the film look like it may not age well visually.

Overall, "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" is an ambitious but flawed film that may struggle to appeal to a wider audience beyond its core fan base. While the film has its moments, its inconsistencies and lack of visual imagination ultimately make it a forgettable addition to the crowded fantasy genre.

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