Nobody expected a D&D movie to be good, least of all me. After living through three laughably bad adaptations it was a bit of a surprise when it was announced, and even more of a surprise when I saw the cast attached. These actors were going to tie themselves to a D&D movie? And with the recent kerfuffles that Wizards has gotten itself into, the winds were decidedly against them on the debut of this movie. But I can now comfortably say that all of our apprehensions about Honor Among Thieves were wrong. Dead wrong. It is without a doubt the best translation of Dungeons and Dragons onto the screen that has ever been made. And while there might be some flaws here and there, I think it’s setting the stage for something truly special.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves focuses on Edgin the Bard (Chris Pine) and his partner in crime/heroism Hulga the Barbarian (Michelle Rodriguez at her deadpan best), who start out as close to rock bottom as you can get in The Forgotten Realms: Revel’s End, the impenetrable prison on the frozen edge of Icewind Dale. Edgin used to be a member of the heroic Harpers before he pissed off the wrong Red Wizard and they attacked his home, killing his wife and leaving him a single father. Hulga soon found him in the gutter, as one does, and the two quickly formed a noble criminal family alongside spunky daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman), amateur sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith), and conman extraordinaire Forge (the ever charming Hugh Grant putting every inch of his ability into this role). When a job for the mysterious wizard Sofina (Daisy Head) goes wrong, the party is broken as Hulga and Edgin go to jail.
Two years later, Forge is head of Neverwinter with Sofina as his advisor and Kira as his adopted daughter and, surprise, the conman is actually the villain! When the newly escaped Hulga and Edgin show back up, Forge and Sofina (who is unsurprisingly also evil) reveal their betrayal and attempt to have them executed. What then follows is a quest to get back Kira, get back a Stone of Awakening to resurrect Edgin’s wife, and get revenge on Forge for being an all around general asshat. They reunite with Simon and eventually recruit Doric the Druid (Sophia Lillis), tiefling raised by humans who now fights for the Emerald Enclave, and join forces with Xenk (Rege-Jean Page), a Paladin from Thay who leads them into the depths of Underdark. It all ends with plenty of explosions, a very fat dragon, and an ending that you definitely will see coming but nonetheless is both earned and emotionally effective.
The thing that sticks out the most to me about the movie is that it’s positioned purely as a comedy. The humor isn’t the sort of wink wink “too cool for this” jokes you get in most fantasy comedies, nor is it the tension breaking quips that have become such an infection on modern cinema. Instead, it’s a genuinely fun romp that never questions or mocks the D&D setting or game, nor does it try to pretend that it’s any more serious than it is. Which is basically how….every D&D game is. It’s a silly game you play with your friends, doing silly voices and going around to all sorts of weird locations. Yes there are times when it’s exciting and times when it’s even tragic, and the movie hits those notes well. But it never makes the mistake the 90’s film made by taking itself seriously at any point.
A lot of that can be chalked up to the cast, who have great chemistry with one another and allow for the interactions to feel organic and natural. Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez make a great comedy duo as the deadpan, practical Hulga puts up with the bombastic, too-charming-for-his-own-good Edgin. Justice Smith’s Simon is a hilariously insecure sorcerer and Sophia Lillis puts in a good showing as his hot headed druid love interest, though she’s the member of the party who gets the least amount of focus. The two standouts for me, however, were Rege-Jean Page and Hugh Grant. Page has the rather thankless role as a Lawful Good Paladin with an inflexible moral code and no sense of humor. But in the sadly short time we spend with Xenk, we get a sense that he’s a good, warmhearted person underneath the heroic exterior. He also serves as the perfect foil for Edgin, shutting down his sarcasm and jokes with a demeanor that is hilariously infuriating for the bard. And Hugh Grant as Forge? He’s Hugh Grant! The man who can literally never not be charming. Forge is slimy, traitorous, and selfish complete with the oiliest grin you’ve ever seen…but you still end up wanting to like him because he’s just that good. It’s unclear what Forge’s fate is at the end, but I hope we see more of him in the future.
It also looks just…fantastic. In an era where even the biggest productions seem to look like VFX sludge, Honor Among Thieves looks real. All of the non-humanoid races are portrayed practically, with special appearances by a Dragonborn (with tiny glasses), an Aaracokra, and some Tabaxi. The locations also are built out and the characters are clearly in a location, with only a few setpieces done in total CGI. When CGI is used, like for Doric’s Owlbear or the chonky dragon Thumberchaud, it has a real weight and plenty of detail. There’s also a really cool sequence straight from the game involving magical portals, glue, and a well-armored carriage.
There are naturally a few things that the story could improve, namely the fact that it’s so tropey that it borders on cliche at times. Edgin’s dead wife is perhaps the most dead wife I’ve ever seen, with all of her appearances after the beginning filmed in soft focus and with a light behind her, plenty of tinkly music as they frolic under white sheets and around their perfect memory home. It felt like a parody. The characters go to a LOT of locations throughout the movie, no doubt to show off as much of the setting as possible, but it would have been nice to spend a little more time in fewer places to make room for some more story and character work. The ending also feels a little tacked on, as while it’s a good “come together” moment for the group, the BBEG is there mostly so there IS a BBEG more than anything.
I’m not sure if there’s plans to make more films in this series, but it ends on a note that makes you want to see more. More of these characters, more of this world. Some iconic D&D creatures like the beholder or Mind Flayer have yet to appear, and there’s still plenty of places in the Sword Coast, let alone the Forgotten Realms, worth seeing. But until then, we’ve got a hell of a fun movie to tide us over until then.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves hits theaters this Friday, March 31st.
Images via Paramount
Have strong thoughts about this piece you need to share? Or maybe there’s something else on your mind you’re wanting to talk about with fellow Fandomentals? Head on over to our Community server to join in the conversation!