Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
Written by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley and Michael Gilio
Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
Starring Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Rege-Jean Page, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Hugh Grant, Chloe Coleman and Daisy Head
A charming thief and a band of unlikely adventurers embark on an epic quest to retrieve a lost relic, but things go dangerously awry when they run afoul of the wrong people.
As a kid in the 80’s, I absolutely loved Saturday morning cartoons and one of my favorites was the Dungeons & Dragons animated series. Not only did I love the series and the characters, but the series inspired me to take up the game with my friends and explore the fantasy world that was created within it. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Dungeons & Dragons was brought to the big screen and the execution of that film made me gun shy about the possibility of anyone being able to make a good film based on Dungeons & Dragons.
Thankfully, Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley have proven me wrong.
First and foremost, temper your expectations. Honor Among Thieves is not a faithful recreation of any campaign or lore established over the many years of D&D. At its best, it is an exploration of the world and lore of Dungeons & Dragons that tells an interesting, entertaining and often hilarious story about people you care about and want to follow on their adventures.
The story mainly focuses on the friendship between Bard Edgin (Chris Pine) and Barbarian Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) as friends and unlikely family bonded over their shared interests, their skill at thievery and raising Edgin’s daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman). During one of their jobs, set up by con man and Rogue Forge (Hugh Grant), the pair find themselves imprisoned and needing to escape in order to find Kira and a magical item that Edgin took the job to get in the first place.
What follows are a series of misadventures for the pair that include dark magic, betrayal and personal secrets. In order to defeat their enemy and rescue Kira, the pair take on a reluctant sorcerer named Simon (Justice Smith) and a magical Druid named Doric (Sophia Lillis) to seek the Paladin Xenk Yandar (Rege-Jean Page). Impeding their quest is the Red Wizard Sofina (Daisy Head) who has her own plans for the world starting with the city of Neverwinter.
All of the actors do an amazing job with both the tone of the film, the comedy within it and the ensemble style story. You absolutely get the sense of who these characters are, what they want and why they need each other. You also enjoy them both individually and as a group. Something that can be attributed both to the actors, but also the writing and directing of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. The movie never feels rushed to get to its story beats and everything feels like it is necessary for the story to progress. Something that rarely happens in a lot of movies these day, especially fantasy films that normally try to dazzle the viewer with spectacle at the expense of story.
Honor Among Thieves does its best work on the screen by being exactly what it is. It’s not trying to tell a huge story with end of the world level stakes. Is there danger in the film? Yes. Does that danger threaten more than just the characters? Yes. But the story keeps those stakes grounded in a way that gives the agency and power to the characters to convey the emotion of what they are facing and what it means to the world they inhabit.
The other thing that surprised me about the film is that it is incredibly funny. There are some great one-liners and banter between characters, but nothing feels forced. None of the actors are going for laughs and that makes those comedic moments funnier. The comedic dialogue is sharp and relies on the audience to be smart enough to be part of the moment.
The action and cinematography are stunning. There are some great set pieces and I love the unique look of the world. The fights are well done and feel thrilling. There is a great scene with a dragon in a dungeon that is both thrilling and hilarious.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is exactly what I want from a D&D film. It focuses on great characters that I cared about. Gives them interesting and entertaining goals. Gives all of them the ability to shine both individually and as a group. Creates stakes that the characters can conceivably overcome. What it does best of all is that it takes the world of these characters seriously without taking itself too seriously.