June 2024

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023)

DIRECTOR: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein

CAST: Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Rege-Jean Page, Hugh Grant, Daisy Head


I went into Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves mostly blind, not really sure of what to expect, and with no particular expectations, and came out pleasantly surprised. While it’s slight compared to epic fantasy like The Lord of the Rings (which, in fairness, it’s not trying to compete with), it’s a breezy enjoyable romp combining action, comedy, magic, and as the title suggests, dungeons and dragons.

The narrative structure resembles an unconventional heist caper with fantasy magical twists, and much of the first half involves backstory and assembling the team. The band is led by bard Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine), and his exiled barbarian best friend Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez). When tragedy befalls Edgin and leaves him a widower with a young daughter to care for, he and Holga turn to a life of petty crime, but a misfired theft lands them in prison while Edgin’s daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) winds up in the care of Edgin’s treacherous friend-turned-enemy Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant), who rises from small-time con man to the Lord of Neverwinter with the help of a lot of stolen treasure and the real power behind the throne, the witch Sofina (Daisy Head). After a prison break, Edgin and Holga set out to get Kira back and get revenge on Forge by assembling a motley crew also including bumbling young sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith), Druid shapeshifter Doric (Sophia Lillis), and the stoic warrior Xenia Yandar (Rege-Jean Page).

Honor Among Thieves is chock-full of D&D references, with various monsters making appearances and mainstay locations like Neverwinter and Baldur’s Gate either being settings or name-dropped, but while the references, cameos, and Easter Eggs will add an extra level of appreciation to D&D aficionados, it’s also straightforward and accessible to those who’ve never played the game in their life. The overall narrative structure resembles an unconventional heist movie, although it also honors the genre by taking its heroes on a side quest to obtain a magical MacGuffin to aid in their mission. Along the way, the filmmakers are clearly never taking anything too seriously without going so far as to disrespect the material. Action-comedy abounds, one-liners and banter fly back-and-forth with ease, and the humor feels organic and naturally-flowing rather than forced or awkward (the general tone compares favorably to the likes of The Mummy or Pirates of the Caribbean). At one point, while Chris Pine’s Edgin is narrating flashbacks of his Tragic Backstory to a parole board, he starts repeating a flashback we’ve already seen, prompting one of the judges to complain he went back too far. At another point, a Villain Monologue gets interrupted by getting smacked in the face with a potato (in dramatic slow motion, no less). While not always getting along, the motley crew of characters develop a camaraderie that makes them a likable gang. Set design and special effects are convincing, including a very chubby dragon that isn’t going to challenge Smaug for the most intimidating movie dragon. There’s a visually memorable chase scene with the shape shifting Doric staying one step ahead of her pursuers while changing in rapid succession from a fly to a mouse to a bird. Later, we have the dueling wizards Simon and Sofina engaging in a decidedly unusual arm-wrestling match.

The cast is well-chosen. Chris Pine brings a breezy, vaguely bumbling charm that doesn’t stray far away from the way he played the young Jim Kirk, and makes an effective dynamic duo with the more stoic Michelle Rodriguez (who appears to be doing her best Lucy Lawless impression). The movie avoids a couple cliches by making Edgin and Holga purely platonic comrades-in-arms without a hint of romance, and by keeping Holga about as far away from a damsel in distress as possible; in fact, Michelle Rodriguez kicks a lot more ass than Chris Pine does. Unsurprisingly, the most overtly comedic role belongs to Hugh Grant, whose fatuously smarmy Forge isn’t a very intimidating “villain”, but he’s really playing second fiddle to Daisy Head’s spooky Sofina, although her mostly offscreen master Szass Tam (who looks a little like Voldemort) is creepier than she is. Arguably the standout in the supporting cast is Bridgerton’s Reg-Jean Page, who doesn’t have a lot of screen time but brings a quiet dignity to his part, along with a little deadpan humor and showing his prowess in an action scene. Justice Smith and IT’s Sophia Lillis nicely round out the main cast.

It remains to be seen if Honor Among Thieves is a one-off or a starting point for a franchise, but it’s an eminently enjoyable romp that serves up plenty of action, comedy, magic, and affectionate homages for fans of the game. It might not be epic fantasy, but it’s a fun time.

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