On paper, a Dungeons & Dragons action comedy produced in today’s Hollywood sounds like a disaster. Dark Universe, DCEU, X-Men — to the groan of fans everywhere, we’ve been down this disappointing road. Might as well add it to the list of failed MCU cash-ins, right? Wrong.
Instead, directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Game Night, Horrible Bosses, Spider-Man: Homecoming) beat the odds. Despite playing it safe, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves re-introduces the joy of humorous, witty fantasy while delivering on the action, magic, and glimpse of a franchise brimming with potential.
Let’s Audit Your Character Sheets
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves centers on Chris Pine’s Edgin Darvis, and in true D&D fashion, immediately establishes Darvis’s backstory as a charming, down-on-his-luck bard. After Darvis loses his wife to a tragedy, he botches his one chance at retrieving a lost resurrection relic. Jailed and alienated from his daughter, our tale begins with a bombastic, unique jailbreak, and, Plan C in motion, the audience straps in for the ride.
At its core, however, Honor Among Thieves is a heist action comedy, one that follows the familiar tropes of recruiting a team, learning to capitalize on each other’s strengths, and enacting a daring plan. Our band of thieves:
- Edgin Darvis: Talented bard. Questionable thief. Champion of Failures. Wants to revive his wife, reconnect with his daughter, and restore his family.
- Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez): Exiled barbarian with a heart of gold. On the lookout for love.
- Simon Aumar (Justice Smith): Budding sorcerer. Shy around the ladies.
- Doric (Sophia Lillis): Tiefling druid. Sharp distrust of humans.
- Xenk Yendar (Regé-Jean Page): Valiant paladin. Lacks all sense of sarcasm.
Everyone on the team has a strong motivation. Their stats, strengths, and weaknesses work together to build a satisfying family of misfits. Yeah, Pine’s absent father trope is tiring, but even so, Pine’s talented enough as a leading man to justify the performance. It’s great to see Sophia Lillis own a new role, too, being one of the more overlooked talents from the IT (2017) crew. Justice Smith in particular is a standout — Simon’s distrust in himself results in plenty of magic-related fumbles, involving a fun use of portals, a time-dilated struggle to master a relic, and plenty more laughs.
This Isn’t a Fantasy Story – This is the Real World!
And that’s just it: Honor Among Thieves is a genuine gutbuster. Once I discovered the makers behind Game Night were directing, I was all in, and they sure delivered. In a different world, Goldstein, Daley, and co-screenwriter Michael Giglio could have easily cashed in on a cheap two-hour SNL skit — hi, Thor Love and Thunder — or shot sticky ectoplasmic nostalgia down my throat — what’s up, Ghostbusters Afterlife — but no. This movie’s just damn funny.
Sure there’s some dim-witted blade humor and amusement may vary, especially if you want epic drama mixed into your fantasy. Whether or not hardcore D&D players vibe with the chosen tone is totally subjective, but as a casual onlooker, my assumption is that RPG fans will spot plenty of satisfying references. Honor Among Thieves certainly isn’t Shakespeare, but its self-awareness is infectious. “You can’t solve every problem with magic. This isn’t a bedtime story — this is the real world!” exclaims Smith at one point. A cheeky nod to the audience, yes, but the delivery is spot-on and the joke actually serves the story instead of the typical corporate-mandated one-liners of recent variety.
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If anything, though, see this film just for the cameo — I haven’t laughed that hard since Jackass Forever, or, since Jesse Plemons’s “Frito Lay” delivery in Game Night.
Visually, Honor Among Thieves is a genuine thrill. From sweeping, Lord of the Rings-style vistas, to Indiana Jones chase sequences, Goldstein and Daley used their budget wisely, and then some. It’s a testament to Honor Among Thieves’s devotion to puppetry and animatronics, alongside polished use of green screen. Compared to, ahem, certain superhero films of late looking nigh unfinished at higher budgets, the Honor Among Thieves talent paints on a better canvas with less at their disposal. And the magic, there’s a sweet abundance of spectacle. You’ll never be able to unsee a certain actor’s face distorting beyond comprehension.
There’s Honor Among Taking Precaution
Goldstein and Daley play their cards safe; there’s nothing truly unique applied to this heist formula, nor anything too wondrous about the environment. While no doubt impressive, the duo kind of built their careers upon safe but crowd-pleasing movies, no? So it’s no surprise that Honor Among Thieves plays within the genre’s parameters. Neverwinter itself, however, doesn’t win many points as a memorable setting. Yes, the dungeons, castles, and forests look the part, but the world and its supported soundtrack lack identity. And the film spends half its runtime introducing the main players.
Even then, Goldstein and Daley’s objective remains successful because the familiar still feels fresh. All involved clearly devoted love and care to the project while taking genuine inspiration from the fun that permeated fantasy (The Princess Bride, Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Perhaps that’s the trade-off of the large focus on character — at already 140 minutes it’s a stuffed pouch, so, expansive worldbuilding must take the back seat. While averting risk, these filmmakers are clearly talented at winning the audience.
With that said Honor Among Thieves still achieves its fair share of expositional worldbuilding. The seeds were planted effectively, albeit at a sometimes more engaging rate than the main garden. It’s by no means an explosion of nods and winks, but during some exposition, I couldn’t help thinking, Hey, what are we doing hanging around these goofballs? I wanna watch that movie with the Red Wizards! If Honor Among Thieves works on its own merits as a heartfelt heist film, what other tones, genres, eras, or histories can they capture next? It’s exciting to imagine.
Hardcore audiences may scoff at the film’s casualness, but the play-it-safe, no-risks approach might just be the proper tactic: construct a cohesive, standalone movie first. Then build upon the foundation. Play the long game. Ring a bell, anyone?
Despite playing round one safe, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves strikes the right balance of teasing the future while delivering a self-contained, funny blockbuster, and a prime example of a proper start to a franchise since Iron Man (2008). Naturally, then, what the script lacks on a grand scale instead feels more akin to a one-shot adventure hunched over your best friend’s living room table, stuffing your face with pizza and soda.
Remember those days of olde? Boy do I miss them, and those fun, self-aware fantasy gems that the movies of today fail again and again to provoke. But not Honor Among Thieves; shit, I’d welcome the D&D cinematic universe with open arms. So in the end, who am I to judge the ectoplasm guzzlers in dire need of a nostalgic fix? Maybe I’m just like everyone else.
This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.
- This article was updated on March 30th, 2023