Honor Among Thieves, a review

After all the hype, all questions, and all the waiting, Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves realized its theatrical release. I saw it the weekend it opened, and I’m not ashamed of that. Seeing something like this come to fruition is all primary school me would have wanted. Once I had my ticket in my hand, I asked myself, “What am I going to think of this move?” I walked out of the cinema with a completely different question, “What would Ed Greenwood say after seeing this?”

Without Greenwood, there would be no Forgotten Realms, the setting for Honor Among Thieves. There’s an explicit reference to Faerun at one point if all of the other places such as Icewind Dale or Baldur’s Gate don’t get your attention. Did the inventor of the world that has become the default setting for D&D think the film did his creation justice? Did he watch and feel a sense of vindication? Having seen it myself, I’d like to think yes.

The story revolves mostly around Edgin, Chris Pine’s character, but all of the other in the adventuring party has a stake in the story. More importantly, they all have a reason to be working together beyond simply acquiring gold. At times the story feels like a fetch quest, but once the group is formed and has what they need, things move very quickly. After Edgin and Holga (see below) break out of prison, absurdly, the story picks up south of the frozen wastelands of Icewind Dale. From there the adventure truly begins. Edgin and Holga make their way further into an ever more complicated plot as they acquire items and friends to help them take on seemingly impossible odds. Can a group of heroes make a stand against the odds? It is D&D, right? If you know the game then you know the answer to being able to win in face of impossible obstacles.

While the film’s story may have centred on Edgin, the characters themselves were well-cast and well-conceived. Michelle Rodriguez as Holga, the ass-kicking barbarian with a broken heart. Justice Smith is Simon, the sorcerer that struggles with believing in himself. Doric, a tiefling druid played by Sophia Lillis, loathes her companions but agrees to struggle along with them. Regé-Jean Page plays Xenk, a righteous, and powerful paladin that is easily the most socially awkward character in the film. An honourable mention goes to Chloe Coleman who portrays Edgin’s daughter Kira. She’s not a part of the adventuring party, but she’s an important part of the story. Then there are Forge and Sofina. Played by Hugh Grant and Daisy Head respectively, they handle their roles in the film extremely well.

The cast is what brings this story to life. They had fun and were completely willing to ham it up, as much as they were willing to trade blows with CGI monsters. This group worked well together, riffing off of one another’s jokes and making the characters take on meaningful lives in the stories. Without this, the movie may have fallen flat, but the actors pulled off some excellent work. This is probably one of the strongest parts of the entire movie.

While the film looks good, it isn’t the most refined thing visually. The cast was great. Visually, the film lacked the same punch as the actors. I remember being more impressed by the cinematography in the Lord of the Rings than I was in this, but the landscapes weren’t the focus. It didn’t matter as much because the effects and the movie itself looked good. Nothing appeared clunky, or out of sync. It was all smooth, and the action scenes were great. When it counted, the movie was visually impressive.

Regardless, the film is just a good time from start to finish. There’s no need to have ever seen, played, or even heard of D&D before seeing this movie. Nothing specific to the game is named in a way that requires the audience to have prior knowledge. Honour Among Thieves is written so that the character is plausible and must try and find creative solutions to seemingly impossible problems. Teamwork is vital, which is an essential component of D&D, or just about any TTRPG. The effect is exceptionally well done. As the movie progresses the group of actors do a great job of bringing their characters together to make them feel like a tight-knight adventuring party.

Seeing the group chemistry was great. If hadn’t known what a D&D session was like, some of the off-handed quips might not make sense, and there were a lot of gags. The movie riffs a lot on jokes and one-liners. It all works, and it fits the gaming table, but sometimes I felt like it was almost a little too much. Also, I wanted to see more of the world, but it took a back seat to the story. If this were to take place at an actual game session, this would have been a multi-part story that spanned multiple sessions. The movie doesn’t capture that, which is fine, but as a gamer, this felt like a module that was only capable of referencing the larger world. As an audience member, the setting at times just felt like words, but with no meaning. These things don’t always translate the way they’re intended to. Most of the attention was on the actors though, which is as it should be. In hindsight, downplaying Faerun may have been a conscious choice to allow the film to be more accessible to a general audience. It was probably the right call, but as a gamer, I hadn’t wanted the setting to be present almost as if it were another part of the cast. Maybe the next film.

There is a key question for reviewing this movie, does it capture the game? In a word, maybe. There are loads of little quirks and in-jokes that gamers in the audience will get. Iconic creatures such as the displacer beast from the trailer, a mimic, a glutinous cube, and even more are peppered throughout the film. Spells, places, and even a hilarious reference to the 1980’s cartoon featured. Knowing this stuff adds to the film’s depth, but not knowing it has zero negative effects on the person’s ability to enjoy the movie.

Will it move the product though? That’s probably something Hasbro’s executives are hoping this film will result in. Merchandising and recruiting new fans to the game. I’m not sure that will work, but it might. If there are affordable box sets with a one-shot containing pre-generated characters from the film, then the company might have something. This brings me back to “maybe”.

Setting aside the game to make it an accessible fantasy story may backfire in bringing new players. People already familiar with the RPG will be happy with what they saw (I was), but did new people learn about the game from the movie? I’m not so sure here. There wasn’t exactly a whole lot of D&D’s lore explicitly available to the audience. A few arcane references people who have never experienced D&D simply won’t get. Insider knowledge is the dividing line for people viewing the movie. Fans and non-fans probably had two completely had two different experiences. WotC/Hasbro will have to figure out how to bridge that divide, which underlines why I said, “maybe”.

As an aside, I was able to see this at a local independent cinema, and that was a bonus. It’s nice when you can keep the money locally owned and help the community. Indy cinema forever!

This film is good fun. Period. I enjoyed myself, and think that this is the kind of flick you see with some friends and some popcorn. Furthermore, this film is going to last. Not because it is going to win awards, but because it is meaningful to people who wanted it the most. Seeing a D&D movie that isn’t hot garbage is vindicating. If the game can shed its stigma as a refuge for nerds because of the film, then that will be a massive victory. Superhero films have had an incredible renaissance, and the time may be ripe for something similar for D&D. This is a movie that will be watched and re-watched again, and again, and again. Get some friends, share some laughs and just let yourselves have fun; at the end of the day, this film is pure entertainment. I would happily go and see more movies like this one, and I freely recommend it to anyone. Ed Greenwood would probably agree.





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