Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves
A band of adventures set off on a quest to find a magical relic and encounter different challenges along the way in John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves.
Dungeons and Dragons is a property I’m not massively familiar with. I’m aware of it through osmosis and know people who are very passionate about it but my direct experience amounts to little more than the less-than-stellar movie released in 2000 and stories based on the property such as the Futurama special “Bender’s Game”. Of course, familiarity with the source should never be a prerequisite for viewing an adaptation of it so never having been part of a group adventure isn’t an issue. The film has to play as much to those who live and breathe the game as it does to those who have no idea what it is. Such a feat isn’t easy to do, particularly if it’s being made by people who do have a passion for the source. Fantasy by its very nature can be impenetrable so making this appeal to general audiences while satisfying the large and varied community of tabletop players is a delicate balance and not a task to be taken lightly.
The short answer to whether it achieves this is a firm “yes”. Honour Among Thieves features a plot that is easy to follow, self-aware and light-hearted with an infectious sense of fun that never manages to be overwhelming or detract from the story being told. A promise is made very early on about what to expect and that promise is never broken. It establishes rules around magic and various mechanics unique to its world that it sticks to with no glaring inconsistencies and contains characters that are consistently engaging. It would have been easy to fall into the trap of alienating the audience by making its world impenetrable through an abundance of lore, rules and statistics but that never happens. Some things are established purely for the minutiae to be mocked at a later point but it laughs with its audience when doing so rather than at them
Honour Among Thieves centres on Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine), bard and former member of a warrior faction bringing together a team consisting of barbarian Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez), shy sorcerer Simon Aumar (Justice Smith), tiefling druid Doric (Sophia Lillis) and -briefly- paladin Xenk Yendar (Regé-Jean Page) to steal an artefact that will resurrect his dead wife. He hopes that doing so will repair the first that exists between him and his daughter, Kira (Chloe Coleman). Their quest puts them at odds with former ally and con artist Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant) and evil red wizard Sofina (Daisy Head). At first glance, the abundance of labels may seem off-putting but the film does an excellent job of outlining the role each character performs in the story and builds dynamics around how the different character types compliment or challenge one another.
Chris Pine is well known to be a charming lead and Honour Among Thieves is no exception to that reputation. The central quest is Edgin’s, the bulk of the emotional stakes belong to him and he guides the viewer on their journey through this world. Pjne has no shortage of charisma that he pours into Edgin, his excellent comic timing helps many of the jokes land and there’s a goofiness to his performance that Pine fully commits to. A running gag with him is that his plans are far from airtight which requires backups that loop back to earlier versions of the plan or flat-out improvisation. This never strays into presenting the character as incompetent or completely overwhelmed by a given situation. A consistent trait is a slight recklessness that adds entertaining unpredictability to many of the set pieces. There are also some impressive emotional beats that Chris Pine sells effortlessly. The film is a romp but Edgin supplying the emotional grounding means that there’s something tangible and relatable to invest in.
The other characters contribute to a constantly fun group dynamic. Michelle Rodriguez plays into her typical badass role as Holga but there’s enough beneath the surface to make her more than her role within the story. Her dynamic with Pine is lived in and some of the film’s best moments come from them as a double-act. Justice Smith’s Simon similarly could have been a basic magic-wielding companion but his dry wit and an arc centred around building self-confidence make him more memorable. Sophia Lillis’ Doric has the most visually dynamic ability that consistently verges on stealing the show and is backed up by a strong personality endearing her to the audience beyond what her shapeshifting ability offers. Regé-Jean Page’s Xenk exists for a very specific purpose and being the butt of some choice running gags never becomes tiresome.
Honour Among Thieves suffers somewhat in the antagonists. Hugh Grant is delightfully smarmy as Forge but isn’t featured enough to truly stand out. There are some awkward cuts away from the quest in order to remind the audience that he exists. Similar applies to Sofina, Daisy Head is intimidating when featured but doesn’t have enough screen time to cement her as a truly worthwhile antagonist. The use of the villains doesn’t harm the experience significantly but it is a notable area of weakness.
Nearly everything else about the film works. It’s well-paced, has excellent production design and is full of creative set pieces that are never repetitive and escalate naturally as the narrative progresses.. A one-take escape sequence where Doric transforms into various creatures is a notable highlight and the seamless use of portals on a couple of occasions really shows the level of imagination behind the camera. It’s constantly evident that real effort and passion went into making this and it’s infectious.
All told, this is the kind of blockbuster that isn’t often made these days and it’s incredibly refreshing to see. It’s fun, visually vibrant, coherent and has no inflated sense of itself. There may come a time when the Dungeons & Dragons brand is franchised into murky oblivion but that day isn’t now and this film deserves to be celebrated for setting out to accomplish something and delivering on what it promises in spades.
An infectiously fun time at the movies that is impressively constructed, endlessly entertaining and visually vibrant with engaging instantly memorable characters. Chris Pine makes for a charming lead playing a character that has enough depth to carry the story. The other characters are similarly well-developed and the actors all bring something extra to their roles. The film falters slightly in the antagonists but this shortcoming doesn’t detract massively from the overall experience. It’s well-paced, has excellent production design and is full of creative set pieces that are never repetitive and escalate naturally as the narrative progresses. This is the kind of blockbuster that isn’t often made these days. There may come a time when the Dungeons & Dragons brand is franchised into murky oblivion but that day isn’t now and this film deserves to be celebrated for setting out to accomplish something and delivering on what it promises in spades.
- an infectious sense of fun
- engaging characters
- Chris Pine as a charming and charismatic lead with plenty of depth
- well-developed character that the actors bring a lot to
- excellent production design
- strong pacing
- creative set pieces
- plenty of imagination on display
- the villains letting the film down slightly
What did you think? Select your rating in the “User Review” box below
User Review( vote)
We’d love to know your thoughts on this and anything else you might want to talk about. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter or just leave a comment in the comment section below. You’ll need an account for Disqus but it’s easy to set up. Don’t forget to share your rating in the “User Review” box
If you want to chat to me directly then I’m on Twitter as well.