It is rare that we sit through a movie with a smile on our faces the whole way through, and even rare still that this smile and general good vibe sticks with us hours after the credits role, but that’s exactly what happened with Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.
For those a bit in the dark, this is the latest crack at making a movie based on the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) roleplaying game currently owned by toy giant Hasbro. Honor Among Thieves has a lot of baggage fighting against it, both from the past and the present. Previous D&D projects, such as the movie from 2000, have done Honor Among Thieves no favours when trying to court new viewers.
Hasbro is also trying its best to torpedo this movie after massive controversy around the D&D and its various licences that threatened to kill the hobby earlier this year.
Early promotional material for the movie also had the general public sceptical about the project, which seemed a bit too flippant and quippy from the outset.
Thankfully, not even a few minutes into the film and we can report that all these fears can be put aside as Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is an absolute homerun that we’re going to recommend everyone sees.
Without spoiling anything the plot of Honor Among Thieves is rather simple: a small band of unlikely friends needs to go on an adventure to find a powerful artefact, battling evil and various other problems along the way.
The central figure of the party is Edgin (Chris Pine), a bard and fallen hero who sets off the main plot. Joining him is barbarian Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith) and druid Doric (Sophia Lillis). Ancillary characters include the rogue Forge (Hugh Grant) and paladin Xenk (Regé-Jean Page).
As you can tell this is a bit of an ensemble cast and, man, we forgot just how compelling and likeable Pine can be in a leading role. Maybe it was the absolute dud of a movie we last saw him in – Wonder Woman 1984 – but Pine kills it here. While we’ll get to the rest of the cast in a minute and how they were good too, Pine is undoubtedly the main character and he carries this movie on his back.
Smith as the unsure sorcerer and Grant as a conniving, yet lovable, moustache twirling heel are strong supports but the core of the performances would have fallen apart without Pine and his charisma in this role. We don’t have enough nice things to say about the performance he turned in and how it helps elevate the already great writing, so let’s continue.
The rest of the cast was good but simply didn’t have as much screentime as Pine. This isn’t a script problem failing to juggle the timing, as it is in many other movies, simply the fact that the main character gets more to do. Other characters get spotlight moments and scenes which audiences will be speaking about, but we can definitely say that everyone brought their A game.
The surprise at the quality of acting is mirrored in the quality of writing and worldbuilding. We were deliberately vague about the plot of this movie, and intentionally so. This is a very basic story but the execution and focus on a believable world is where the magic happens.
One of Honor Among Thieves’ best tricks is juggling D&D specifics and deep cut references, all while never leaving general audiences behind. When a Owlbear gets a dedicated scene, tearing up bad guys, the long time D&D fans can cheer on, but everyone who doesn’t know what an Owlbear is still gets a fun action scene.
As much praise as we heaped on Pine, we would like to heap even more on directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, as well as the various writers. It’s just so clear that everyone came into this project with good faith and a love of D&D, and that shows in the final product.
The messiness around this movie lead to a lot of scepticism for it as well as general apprehension because this is yet another movie based on an existing product, but so much of Honor Among Thieves feels like a love letter to the source material and the genuine fondness that the world has developed for D&D over the many decades it has been around.
Here’s the best way to look at it: the Stranger Things creators obviously love D&D and use it extensively as a background, inspiration and framing device for that series to mixed results that still shows a care for this special roleplaying game.
This a surface-level service to D&D while Honor Among Thieves, on the other hand, jumps in with both feet with the express intention of making you smile by bringing D&D to life. This is background versus foreground storytelling and a flex from everyone involved in how well it was all pulled off.
And again we have to mention that you can still have a great time in Honor Among Thieves without knowing a single thing about D&D. Nowhere is this more apparent in the visual language and action of the movie.
Honor Among Thieves creates a world, through visuals, costumes, sets and CGI, that is a joy to exist in. This is medieval fantasy at the highest level that may be a bit generic but still delivers on successful worldbuilding.
The action scenes are of particular note. While you may expect a lot of CGI foolery common of modern movies, with magic users slinging coloured blobs at each other, there’s actually a lot of well-choreographed fight scenes to enjoy. You can see an early example of this in the trailers on this page involving Rodriguez in melee against armoured knights. We were a bit shocked – in a good way – about how brutal and crunchy this action is. Rodriguez smashing an armoured enemy with a weapon is backed up with movement that makes sense, proper feedback in the form of brutal audio, and stunt people fully selling the bit.
All of the worldbuilding, action and even story has this sheen over it where it’s clear that this is all pantomime and everyone is in on the joke. While that may be a problem in other movies, the meta fact that this is a D&D project instead helps the cause. The best way of thinking of it is this: at any time during the movie, when something wacky or out of place happens, just imagine a few friends sitting at a table, maybe a few alcoholic drinks deep, deciding to do something dumb in their roleplaying game because it would be funny, and the entire table erupts in laughs.
Honor Among Thieves carries this jovial, “in on the fun” vibe all the way to the credits.
This is not a perfect movie, of course, and we can pick on several problems like a soundtrack that we forgot the minute the music was over and some plot threads that should have been tidied up in a bit in an edit, but when you’re having such a good time it’s hard to complain.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is unbeatable fun from start to finish. This movie not only managed to surprise us with its quality and heart, but it pulls off the rare feat of being a franchise film that will please both fans of said franchise and complete newcomers too. It’s not even April yet but we’ll be remembering this one when it’s time to discuss the best movies of the year.
We were expecting to only recommend this movie to D&D diehards, then we were expecting to only recommend it to fantasy lovers, and then only to those who want something light and breezy. Now, however, it gets a full recommendation that everyone should go and see this success in feel-good entertainment, preferably in a group just like D&D itself.
FINAL SCORE: 8 OUT OF 10