"Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" Review
Bringing games (both video games and board games) to the silver screen has been one of the most challenging things to do within Hollywood. It takes real creativity to adapt the sprawling interactiveness of a gaming story and mold it into something that is to be solely watched. And you also have to show reverence for the material and its fans, while also making it palatable for anyone that is totally unfamiliar with it. There have been too many bad adaptations to count, with HBO’s The Last of Us potentially signaling that long-form television is the way to go.
And if those challenges weren’t already hard enough, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves must do all of that without the structural support of an identifiable narrative, as the biggest reason for the game’s massive popularity and long-lasting appeal is the total freedom for players to shape their own stories. And yet, directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, as well as their writing partner Michael Gilio, have crafted a highly entertaining movie with several in-jokes towards hardcore fans, while also not bewildering those only familiar with the property by name (such as myself).
We open with Edgin (Chris Pine), the brains, and Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), the muscle, imprisoned on an icy tundra. As the title suggests, they are thieves that have plundered along with their merry band of misfits. But, again, as the title suggests, they do have honor, as they take the Robin Hood approach of only stealing from the rich and never intentionally causing physical harm. Their capture comes after being betrayed by the evil Red Wizard Sofina, who has a grand plan that means doom for all of Neverwinter. Edgin and Holga recruit some new compatriots - Simon the sorcerer (Justice Smith), Doric the druid (Sophia Lillis), and Xenk the paladin (Regé-Jean Page) - as they hatch a plan to retrieve a valuable artifact that was stolen from them and put a stop to this evil threat.
Don’t fret if you have no idea what the terms “druid” and “paladin” mean, as the well-filmed introductions to these characters do much of the heavy lifting. Just as they did with Game Night, Daley and Goldstein choreograph everything above and beyond the simple job description, with another signature long take adding a healthy dose of fuel to this fire of fun. There are still a few too many hearty helpings of flashbacks and exposition dumps, but it’s not anything out of the ordinary since there’s a lot for newcomers to catch up on.
But there’s more than just technical wizardry that makes this tale of witches and wizards as entertaining as it is. The leads aren’t acting as if they’re too cool to play dress up, or that this is all for a quick buck. They all forge a comradery, emulating that same aura of kinetic fun in Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy. Page is the scene-stealer as a mix between Ted Lasso and Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy, an altruistic and powerful warrior that doesn’t understand ironic humor.
Comparing this film to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films would be an easy knock against it, as the shared DNA is quite evident (a few helicopter landscape shots seem almost copied and pasted). But no one has been able to live up to that trilogy ever since, not even Jackson himself when with his misbegotten Hobbit films. Dungeons & Dragons may be similar, but it’s not a carbon copy. It’s a fastball down the middle, offending neither party through its fun antics and breezy atmosphere.