Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
For a Dungeons & Dragons premise, there are shockingly little dragons on screen… Doesn’t matter, this fantasy blockbuster is hella fun!
Genre: Action / Adventure / Fantasy
Director: John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
Cast: Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Regé-Jean Page, Daisy Head, Chloe Coleman, Georgia Landers & Hugh Grant.
Run Time: 134 min.
US Release: 31 March 2023
UK Release: 31 March 2023
German Release: 30 March 2023
Let me start this review by pointing out that I am not well-versed in D&D, because I am not the biggest fan of pen-and-paper tabletop games. As such, my biggest connection to Dungeons & Dragons is the horrible adaptation from the 2000s, starring Jeremy Irons as the villain. I had, therefore, no real motivation to watch this flick, especially knowing that Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez do not always pick the best projects. To my surprise, I had a blast at the cinema with this reboot! So pick up your dice, as we roll through my review for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves!
A charming thief embarks on an epic adventure, with his merry group of misfits, to recover a long-lost relic. Things go wrong when they clash with the wrong people.
Development for a new adaptation of the tabletop game was in production since 2013 but saw various changes in scripts, studios, even a lawsuit was filed by Hasbro. In the end, the writing/directing duo Daley and Goldstein were approached, upon leaving directing duties for The Flash movie. They immediately sat down to rework a script by Michael Gilio plus Chris McKay, with principal photography commencing in April 2021.
First things first, the directors were right to change the tone of the screenplay to a more lighthearted, self-aware one, without ever crossing the spoof boundary. It took a lot from Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy dynamic, implementing it in a sword-and-sorcery scenario. Add to that a couple of elements from The Lord of the Rings, Monty Python’s The Holy Grail, plus the “dungeon crawl” scenario of Indiana Jones, and you end up with an amusing fantasy feature, for audiences to escape to.
Though I can’t completely confirm this, as I am not a D&D player myself, I did read several comments, as well as reviews, which seem to confirm that the story honours the tabletop’s lore. Some of the aspects that are found in the group's interaction with each other, mirror a game night among friends, sitting around the table, throwing banter at each other. The fact that this type of atmosphere was captured, is worth much praise.
Now, this is no perfect film containing a couple of problems. Up high on my list is the fact that it has nothing truly memorable! Don’t get me wrong, it does a great job at entertaining, however, most of the premise is forgotten after a few hours. Then there is the number of gags, that at times are one too many. Finally, cutting ten minutes out of the overall runtime could have benefitted it.
The dialogue is very pun-heavy, at times to a fault. Having said that, the banter between characters is supposed to reflect the atmosphere between players. Some conversations even sound like a dungeon master, listing the rules for the quest.
Every character has a specific function, as in D&D. It is the actors that give their roles personalities, which viewers come to care for!
Chris Pine, playing the lead persona, is to all surprise no deadly thief. In fact, his role as Edgin Darvis is that of a conniving bard, who does not like to get his hands dirty. He leaves the brawling to his right-hand lady, the barbarian Holga Kilgore, played by a lovely Michelle Rodriguez. Both have impeccable chemistry, with their characters becoming the unofficial parents of the group. Pine’s natural charm makes everything he says amusing, yet it is the character’s personal motivation that engages audiences emotionally.
Justice Smith portrays the party's sorcerer Simon Aumar, who has self-esteem issues and, as such, trouble controlling his magical abilities. His inability to believe in himself is played for comedy. Then there is Sophia Lillis as the druid Doric, Simon’s love interest, just like an agile member, with handy abilities.
Hugh Grant plays an important figure, in an undisclosed role. What I can confirm, is that he gives his usual slimy performance, which at times does sound very much scripted. Daisy Head has been cast as the leading antagonist of the narrative, her character belonging to the Red Wizards of Thay. She stays mostly in the background until her motives are revealed during the second act.
Regé-Jean Page accompanies the group for a short time, as the paladin Xenk Yendar. He is humorous in combination with Pine, though his character is very cut and dry. He is also too good at his skills; a reason why he is only with the party for a limited duration.
Technically, Honour Among Thieves is a mixed bag. The editing effectively uses flashbacks plus montages, but due to the comical background, none of it reaches an emotional point of impact. Battle scenes are mostly well-helmed, though at times quick cuts are overused. The set design, with its large picturesque scenes, does look lavish. The colour palette is strong, without over-saturating the tints. The lighting is solid, making good use of shadows and darkness.
The background VFXs, on the other hand, look extremely superficial. The overreliance on CGI overloads the imagery, distracting from the plot. The quality of the computer imagery varies, monsters do look mostly decently designed, yet when bad effects appear on screen, they stick out like a sore thumb. A few practical effects are used, which feel more realistic.
The soundtrack has been composed by former D&D player Lorne Balfe, who creates an energetic, fantasy-adventure tune that includes a lot of flutes, strings, drums, as well as some choral chanting. On top of that, the psychedelic band Tampa Impala released a single for the motion picture named “Wings of Time”, which contains a galloping drum beat.
Verdict: While this might not be the new fantasy epic audiences were waiting for, it is still nice to see the genre obtaining a new addition! Especially when it is a reboot of a beloved pen-and-paper game that has been done dirty in the past. Yes, the script has its issues; for one it overuses humour to a fault, nevertheless, using the GotG formula in a mythical picture proved to be the right move, especially for this property. The characters all have their roles to play, as do the tabletop figures, and one comes to care for them. The cinematography plus effects might be hit-and-miss, however, the music does help immerse audiences into the world. All in all, I had fun with this lighthearted flick. Is it the next Lord of the Rings? No, definitely not but it is a nice breath of fresh air, as well as a slight revival of the fantasy genre! As such, Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves obtains a 7.0 out of 10.
Are you a D&D game fan? Did you like this film adaptation? More importantly, does it follow the lore & rules? Leave a comment in the section below & thank you for reading!