Ever since Iron Man came out in 2008, the non-Disney studios have been desperate to build their own cinematic universe franchises. Outside of one or two arguable exceptions, these attempts have fallen flat on their faces. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves certainly has a Marvel-style franchise on its mind. It aims for the same sort of action that Disney has put out for the last fifteen years full of big CGI, a heavy sprinkling of wisecracks and a dash of heart. Honor Among Thieves doesn’t entirely nail all those targets in the bullseye but it gets close enough to do the one thing a lot of those would-be franchise kickoffs forget to do; be a pretty good movie in its own right.
For Beth Rimmel's EN World review of Honor Among Thieves, click here!
Edgin the Bard (Chris Pine), Holga the Barbarian (Michelle Rodriguez), Doric the Druid (Sophia Lillis) and Simon The Sorcerer (Justice Smith) come together as an ensemble definitely cast in the Guardians of the Galaxy mold of unlikely heroes who have personal motivations to steal from bad guy Forge (Hugh Grant) and maybe save the world after, time permitting. The plot feels appropriate for a D&D with an overarching story that has quests to fulfill before it resolves. There are plenty of lore drops, the spellcasters using magic by calling out their proper D&D titles and a tease of an even Bigger Bad that definitely feels like the kind of thing they want to resolve in a few years and a few movies.
However, Honor Among Thieves works best when it borrows from an entirely unexpected franchise: Ghostbusters. That film works because the lore and worldbuilding are played relatively straight with the humor coming from the reactions of the working class heroes to all this weird supernatural stuff. That’s where the line is drawn in this film, where characters will casually drop names and places from all over the Forgotten Realms before letting the leads riff on them for a bit. Pine definitely has the best lines, though Rodriguez gets a few laughs as Pine’s surly straight man that occasionally dips into “let’s just kill ‘em all” power gamer. It’s one of the keys to the authenticity of the experience. Throw a big scary monster at most veteran D&D players and they’ll crack a few jokes as they roll initiative.
That authenticity extends to the various plans our heroes come up with in the course of the film. Though the film has really leaned into the fantasy heist movie branding, you won’t find any convenient flashbacks or tropes like “actually that bad guy was with us the whole time” here. Instead, the group comes up with a plan, whiffs a few die rolls executing the plan, then changes to an entirely different plan. There’s also a few unexpected uses of magic and magic items in the film where you can almost hear the DM’s sigh of exasperation as the good guys use the item in a way that circumvents their carefully laid out plot.
This theoretical DM gets a little bit of revenge with the appearance of Xenk the Paladin (Rege-Jean Page). This character appears in an extended second act cameo and feels like a character from a much different D&D movie. More specifically, it feels like a character from an earlier campaign who overshadows the rest of the group. Luckily, most of these moments are played for laughs, and Page is game to tackle making a classic Lawful Good character likable even if the rest of the group roll their eyes when he’s delivering lore.
Xenk’s shorter arc highlights one of the slight weaknesses of the film. Doric and Simon don’t get character traits beyond their initial ones of “earnest eco-warrior” and “sorcerer with terrible dice luck”. The leads reflect a few different philosophies of players and backstory. Edgin is mostly there to crack jokes even though his backstory is central to the film, while Holga’s player has brewed a romance that only she wants to work on. Grant is fine in his role as scummy ex-associate willing to sell out anyone for a gold piece, but his character makes a couple moves that feel less like character choices and more like “because then we’d end early for the evening after you all died.”
Also, for a film that’s supposed to be a twisty heist there aren’t really many surprises in the script: no sudden betrayals, no fake sellouts or any other staples of the heist movie. Even the low point of the second act where everyone threatens to walk away gets resolved in just a few minutes thanks to a self deprecating speech by Pine. Ultimately this works to the films' advantage as it never feels like its two hour run time. I love those regular nine hour extended viewings of Lord of the Rings like everyone else, but I’ll be excited to pop this on as a comfort movie when I want some fantasy adventure and not devote the whole day to it.
D&D: Honor Among Thieves is a family friendly action comedy with franchise dreams that hits the right notes for fans of the game and folks who just want to see Chris Pine play a lute. It may bring more players into the game. It may not. But it’s good enough to bring younger family members who might want to know about game nights or older members who always wondered what went on in the basement.
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