‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves’ Review
By most lights, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves had “bomb” written all over it.
It’s a movie based on intellectual property that is relatively well known but only well loved by a fairly narrow slice of the population. Previous attempts to adapt the property have not been well received (and the 2000 movie is downright loathed by both players of the games and average moviegoers). This is the sort of thing that reeks of a studio desperate to create a franchise and doing so by throwing money at the problem.
But Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves pulls off a neat trick: It’s respectful of the source material while also understanding how fundamentally goofy the whole thing is, leaning into the comedy side of action-comedy. Writer/director team John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein pulled a similar feat off a few years back with Game Night, deftly taking a fundamentally silly idea—“What if couples game night turned deadly?”—and making it work by leaning into the comedic aspects.
It helps that Chris Pine is an absolute all-star, one of the few real movie stars who can effortlessly mix gravitas and pettiness with expert comic timing. His bard, Edgin, is the perfect complement to Michelle Rodriguez’s Holga, a taciturn and capable warrior. Daley and Goldstein wisely make their relationship more fraternal than romantic; as we learn in the exposition dump flashback at the beginning of the picture, the two are raising Edgin’s daughter, Kira (Chloe Coleman), and earning money by committing various petty thefts with the aid of a crappy sorcerer named Simon (Justice Smith) and a disheveled conman named Forge (Hugh Grant).
Edgin and Holga begin the film in prison, having been caught trying to steal a tablet that he wants to use to bring Kira’s mother back to life. Their quest involves reuniting with Kira, who lives with Forge and, with the aid of a malevolent red wizard named Sofina (Daisy Head), has become the lord of some land or another. To do so they’ll need a fancy helmet. To get the fancy helmet they’ll need the aid of Doric (Sophia Lillis), a shapeshifting elf, and Xenk (Regé-Jean Page), a noble paladin too powerful and good to join their party, lest he unbalance the whole affair.
Again: kinda goofy! The whole thing is silly. But leaning into that silliness is what makes it work. Part of leaning in involves creating a world that looks believable, and creating a believable world of this sort is expensive. But you can see the cost on the screen, from the character design to the costuming to the set dressing: the world looks real and lived in. There’s a bird-man character that looked so realistic I wasn’t entirely sure if it was practical or computer-generated (likely some combination of the two). Whatever the case, it looked plausibly alive, which is no mean feat.
Daley and Goldstein do an excellent job of both hitting the tropes and undermining them ever so slightly in consistently amusing ways. As when the party goes to an underground hellscape and is forced to flee from an obese dragon. A fat dragon who looks kinda like Jim Davis’s Garfield: That’s funny! It’s a funny gag. I laughed. Or the sequence in which the party is forced to dig up a series of corpses, briefly revive them, and ask exactly five questions of each of them as they try to track the fancy helmet. Again: a funny gag! I laughed out loud on several occasions, as did the audience with whom I saw the film.
I write a lot about the joys of seeing movies with an audience, and this is the perfect example of how it can be unexpectedly fun: there’s nothing quite as fun as seeing a well-executed action-comedy with an audience, one that both inspires peals of laughter and those tense moments where you grab the chair in anticipation. We’ve been seeing more of that in recent weeks and months, movies like Cocaine Bear and Violent Night. It’s one of the core reasons the Marvel Cinematic Universe was as popular as it was for so long: the movies aren’t merely spectacle, they’re also all pretty funny.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves nails that sensibility. It’s not high art, but you’re going to enjoy yourself. And, most of the time, that’s enough.