My first Dungeons & Dragons character was a halfling bard. He was a devious trickster, whose introduction to the party involved pickpocketing the other members and swapping a prized spellbook with a cookbook. Naturally, he would fit right into the story of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, a tale of fantasy antics and epic emotional storytelling.
Honor Among Thieves isn’t the first D&D film, but I don’t think the one from 2000 counts (and I’m sure many fans would agree). Luckily, the new film is more than enough to wipe the stain of the old movie completely away: It’s a wonderfully enjoyable fantasy adventure with the thrilling trappings of a heist movie that simultaneously captures the spirit of the tabletop game while remaining accessible to newcomers. In other words, a Nat 20.
Taverns are too cliché, so Honor Among Thieves begins in a prison, where human bard/rogue Edgin (Chris Pine) and human barbarian Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) are serving time after a heist gone wrong. Two humorously belabored backstories later, Edgin and Holga are freed from prison and set out to reclaim their lives. Their plan is complicated when it turns out former associate Forge (Hugh Grant) has risen in station – adopting Edgin’s daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) while simultaneously enlisting the assistance of shady wizard Sofina (Daisy Head) to take control of the city of Neverwinter. Spurned, Edgin and Holga do what all good heist crews do: build a team, form a(nother) plan, and rob Forge blind.
Honor Among Thieves follows – almost beat for beat – a classic D&D adventure. It’s got spell-casting, puzzle-solving and monster-slaying. Also included are dungeons (multiple!) and dragons (several!). Honor Among Thieves never drags, like playing the real game unfortunately often does. Without the need for silly things like rules or dice, the film can focus on what D&D does best: creating a fun fantasy adventure.
Technically, Honor Among Thieves does a great job of bringing the world of the game to life. Fans will recognize monsters, spells and items from the game, as well as situations they probably have found themselves in as a player: failing to cast a spell due to losing concentration, for example. The movie isn’t just for established D&D fans; it introduces important factions and characters appropriately, and its simple story is accessible to newcomers.
It helps that the movie is frequently hilarious. While Marvel movies have inundated audiences with nonstop quips for nearly two decades now, Honor Among Thieves brings humor without feeling stale or awkward. D&D is a funny game, and the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is one of the reasons it rises above some of its fantasy-action contemporaries.
While the film has a lot of humor, it has a lot of heart as well. At its core, D&D is about building friendships – families, even. Honor Among Thieves understands this and presents audiences with characters who come together not just because they need to for the film to happen, but because they need each other as people. Edgin is “the leader” but, as the other characters point out, is pretty useless at most things. The effortlessly badass Holga might be able to mop the floor with goons without breaking a sweat, but doesn’t know a thing about magic. Unconfident sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith) and skeptical tiefling druid Doric (Sophia Lillis) might not get along, but they support each other when it counts.
A good hero story wouldn’t be complete without good villains. Hugh Grant shines as Forge, a man whose charm is only matched by his opportunism. Meanwhile, Daisy Head menaces as Sofina, whose villainy goes unnoticed (or unvalued) by Forge and the rest despite her obviously evil eyeliner. I suppose not everyone picks their friends so carefully.
Honor Among Thieves won’t be winning Best Picture at next year’s Oscars, but if there was a “Most Fun Movie” category, it would cinch it, Challenge Rating: Zero!