Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Boasts Charisma but Lacks Wisdom and Dexterity

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Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Boasts Charisma but Lacks Wisdom and Dexterity

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a movie that has me of two minds. On one hand, fourth grade me who played D&D at lunch and fell in love with it is amazed that a blockbuster has been made of this quintessentially geeky pastime that most players hid from everyone who didn’t get it. Adult me wishes that this movie didn’t feel like a lesser Dungeon Master cribbed the screenplay—ahem, campaign—from any number of current blockbuster templates, ranging from Guardians of the Galaxy to Star Trek Beyond. Honor Among Thieves is rife with all the cliches: A cobbled-together found family, plenty of snark, some character self-doubt, the requisite massive VFX creatures and lots of action beats that run a tad bit long. It’s comfort food when it could’ve been a radical adventure shaking up the genre, especially considering the cast and creative talents behind this endeavor. 

Honor Among Thieves opens with a clever way to impart a lot of establishing exposition, having the bard Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine) appear before an Absolution Council (a.k.a. parole hearing) conveying the sob story of how he got incarcerated for two years with his barbarian bestie, Holga (Michelle Rodriguez). It’s a witty way to cover a lot of ground, getting us up to speed on Edgin’s “before life,” as a besotted husband and kinda absentee father to his daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman). It’s greed—and a pipe dream to resurrect his murdered wife—that gets him in the end. He pilfers from the wrong baddies, The Red Wizards, and gets caught in a Time Stop spell that ends up costing him his freedom, his circle of friends and his daughter.

From there, the story gets more perfunctory, with a freed Edgin and Holga traveling to “get the band back together” including the petty thief/Half-Elf sorcerer Simon Aumar (Justice Smith), the rogue Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant) and Kira. As it turns out, Forge has embraced being “father” to young Kira while aligning himself with the Red Wizard Sofina (Daisy Head) to reap great riches and power. Edgin figures the only way to restore his daughter’s good graces is to find the Tablet of Reawakening in order to bring back Kira’s long-dead mother and get a do-over for his family. To do so, they seek the help of the human-wary Tiefling druid, Doric (Sophia Lillis) and the esteemed paladin, Xenk (Regé-Jean Page) for their skills in finding the thing. 

A-questing they a-go, with pit stops that vary from the brilliant (a sublime grave-robbing sequence) to the too weird for words (a cameo-centric scene that feels ripped from a daytime self-help show). Much like a playable D&D adventure, the film unfolds as a series of missions that get this newly established party of misfits to bond and chase leads meant to personally test them before the really hard third act perils. Everything is handled with a very Thor: Ragnarok-esque breezy vibe. The stakes are supposed to be high, but the tone never implies we should be worried about anyone. Even the dragons are played as family-friendly sight gags. 

All of which is odd, considering even the ’80s Dungeons & Dragons animated series had some bite and, more recently, Stranger Things figured out how to appeal to kids and adults with real gravitas and scares using D&D as a pivotal backdrop. Not even the Red Wizard “Big Bads” have much potency outside of their visual bluster. They’re never framed with much purpose or reasoning behind their ultimate goals, so they swirl their hands and wail to excess, but there’s no actual investment in their pursuits—or in fearing Sofina as anything but a very pale figurehead. 

As a movie trying to serve two masters (the D&D noobs and anyone who has ever played), Honor Among Thieves does a solid job pleasing both. Gamers are especially going to get a lot of delight from the myriad D&D insider names, terminology, locales and skills generously thrown into every frame and a lot of the dialogue. For those not in the know, expect some head scratching over the litany of weird names, MacGuffin items and regions that will glaze some eyes over when it gets too dense. However, none of it is a barrier to entry. The storytelling is straightforward and the performances dial in everything anyone needs to follow along.

Speaking of the cast, it’s as on the nose as you can get: Pine is in full James T. Kirk mode, working his typical laconic charm offensive; Rodriguez is the deadpan muscle; Smith is the self-conscious mage; Grant is the unctuous comic relief and so-on. No one, except Page, is working against type. That’s unfortunate. Sure, the actors all checked the boxes of their assigned roles, but I kept imagining how much more fun it would’ve been to watch if they had all been cast atypically. And that’s only because they get it so right with Page’s Xenk, the beatific and uptight paladin. He succeeds as both an inside joke for players—paladins are consistently dunked upon as stick-in-the-mud characters to play due to their uber morality—and a great straight man for the party. 

Anyone who has crafted a character sheet will attest that the deeper you go into building a backstory and skills, the more vital and worthy they are to the gameplay. Unfortunately, Honor Among Thieves forgets that and remains very surface with its lineup. Being pithy and reactive to dangers is the primary mode for the entire party, to the detriment of establishing logic for their motivations. Simon, for example, is such an implausible dunderhead about his magic skills his whole life, yet is finally motivated to excel by a random ancient relative who shouldn’t have more agency than his actual friends. Holga, framed as a second mother to Kira, just follows Edgin’s selfish approach to his daughter rather than dictating her own feelings about her attachment and love for the kid. It’s incurious and passive writing, in keeping with the movie’s “just go with it” approach.

Is Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves a fun watch? Sure. The spectacle is impressive at times, with better CG than most peers in its class. It works best as a romp and a primer for kids with parents itching to open their minds to D&D play. In terms of its cinematic impact, though, there’s too much that’s too familiar, which makes it slight and forgettable. It’s ironic that writer/directors John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein are releasing this into a theatrical landscape where critics and audiences are lamenting the lack of emotional resonance and inventiveness with recent Marvel and DC releases. Daley, Goldstein and producer Jeremy Latcham were original disruptors in the MCU with Spider-Man: Homecoming. If only they had felt more emboldened to break free from the blockbuster parameters they pushed against back in the day, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves might have been a modern classic. 

Director: John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
Writer: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein, Michael Gilio
Starring: Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Hugh Grant
Release Date: March 31, 2023

Tara Bennett is a Los Angeles-based writer covering film, television and pop culture for publications such as SFX Magazine, Total Film, SYFY Wire and more. She’s also written books on Sons of Anarchy, Outlander, Fringe, The Story of Marvel Studios and The Art of Avatar: The Way of Water. You can follow her on Twitter @TaraDBennett or Instagram @TaraDBen

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