Let’s talk about Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.
For those of you who think dice with more than six sides are the work of the devil and should be avoided at all costs, you should know for your own sanity that Dungeons and Dragons has had a massive burst in popularity over the last few years. This is down to a number of reasons including the popular YouTube show Critical Role and the fact people still like to get together and play games and if video games are going to remove split screen, we’ll get the pens and paper out and make our own games god damn it. We have started to see Hollywood take notice of this, most noticeably in the ‘Yes March 2020 is going to be a great release date for our movie and nothing can go wrong’ Pixar movie Onward, which almost ressurected Gary Gygax so he could sue their arses off. So instead of letting other people make Dungeons and Dragons movies, Hasbro themselves have decided to make a Dungeons and Dragons movie.
After a heist gone wrong, Edgin and Holga break out of prison. They find out one of their accomplices not only backstabbed them and not only may accidentally be bringing about the end of the world by aligning with a red witch, but is also brainwashing Edgin’s daughter against him. They must therefore form a team to try and get his daughter back and if they also get a lot of treasure on the way, that’ll be alright as well.
People who have been familiar with Dungeons and Dragons for a long time will shiver at the thought of a movie based on their game. That’s because this isn’t the first attempt. Back in the 1990s, there was another film with Jeremy Irons as the villain. It was also one of the worst films of the decade. It completely forgot about its source material and ended up being a film where modern day teenagers are pulled into the fantasy world to try and save it. Yep, the easy get out for so many attempts to bring beloved properties to the big screen back then because they didn’t have faith general audiences in getting it. Now, we know differently. Thanks to Marvel, and this won’t be the last time we refer to them here, more film companies are actually having confidence that if they translate their properties faithfully, they can make people fall in love with the movie for the same reasons people fell in love with the original.
However, there is something tricky with Dungeons and Dragons in terms of making it into a movie. It doesn’t have a story. The whole idea of Dungeons and Dragons is that it is simply a tool to make your own stories. If you buy into it, you get a couple of books to teach you the rules and let you know the monsters you could fight, and then your Dungeon Master will craft a world and story for your own specially made character to play in. There are ready made modules of course which could have been adapted, but they’re for beginners getting used to the game, and not the reason people get into it. So unlike comic books where the writers can lift or take parts of an already existing storyline, the writers here had to craft a story that was mostly original while using pieces from the existing D&D lore but without the freeform nature that people like about the game. Tricky stuff.
What they have done is basically try to make the movie like an abbreviated campaign. A one-shot, if you will. So you get some characters together that all fit the race and classes that are in the games, give them one overriding mission, which is the story up above, and then set them on it in typical D&D fare. And I have to say, they’ve done a really good job really making it seem like this could have been written from someone’s D&D game. A quote I’ve been told about D&D is that every campaign attempts to Lord of the Rings but devolves into being Monty Python. This is definitely the case with this film. It has the potential to be a grand adventure but because the characters are all fundamentally flawed, it often ends up being quite comedic. There’s moments in this that any D&D player will recognise from their own games. A massively overpowered character shows up for a bit, is awesome and then disappears because the DM/writer realises every problem could be solved if they stuck about. Plans constantly go wrong for the stupidest of reasons. An early moment sees a grand complicated plan be enacted which wouldn’t be needed if they had listened for one more sentence. It’s all very D&D.
And with this being a bunch of characters that the film happily labels as losers trying to do a heist combined with defeating a deadly villain, this ends up being a fantasy Guardians of the Galaxy. And to keep the Marvel links going, there’s even a Hulk moment in the final fight which is still amusing as it turns out. Of course, this movie is nowhere near as good as Guardians of the Galaxy but it’s still pretty fun. It helps that there’s a good script that has plenty of good zingers for everyone to chuck out. Chris Pine feels like the most underrated of all the Chrises, though he doesn’t attract the sheer hatred Pratt does, but he works really well as the quippy hero. He gets an able supporting cast and how we didn’t realise Hugh Grant wasn’t a brilliant villain before Paddington 2 I don’t know, because his effortless charm works brilliantly as a slimy rogue lord. It’s a great cast that give their all to make this as entertaining as possible.
Where the film struggles is having such a poor opening. After a tense opening is undercut by humour just to make sure you aren’t taking this all too seriously, Chris Pine’s character has to persuade a committee to release him from prison. He then ends up telling his entire backstory in one big info. In one respect, it’s very D&D for a character to load their entire backstory into one monologue instead of piecing it out over the film. In another respect, it starts the film at crawling speed and feels very amateur hour from the writers to dump it all right there. I’ll be honest, I thought it was going to be a lie to try and trick the committee into taking pity on him, so I wasn’t entirely paying attention because I thought the punchline would be coming soon. But it didn’t, it was real and it took about ten minutes to do it all. Add to that it takes a while for the crew to be formed and to get things into place for where the film wants to be and you have this really poor start which you have to fight to get through.
After a controversial start to 2023 for the Dungeons and Dragons franchise, fans can be at least relieved that Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves treats the franchise with the love and respect it deserves. Fans will enjoy that this movie obviously loves the original game and is packed with as many references and familiar monsters as possible while having the feel of a campaign they’ll have played in. You have a cast that all bring something fun to the table and a story that after a terminally dull start really picks up and offers plenty to enjoy. If the directors had rolled a D20 to see about the quality of their movie, they got a solid 14 which means they’ll pass most saving throws. I think that made sense.