Four friends gather together to partake in the most epic of roleplaying games. Their dungeonmaster, having taken months to prepare for this one night, leads his group through the most famous of locales, fighting the most dangerous villains, and offering up the sweetest lewt boxes.
That’s pretty much how Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves plays out except, instead of seeing our group in blankets substituting for robes with cardboard swords and shields in hand, we get the likes of Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez standing in as their representatives.
Pine plays Edgin Darvis, a former Harper who broke his vows after his wife was killed by a Red Wizard seeking revenge. Imprisoned after a botched heist that would have net him a powerful tablet of resurrection, he and his barbarian friend Holga Kilgore (Rodriguez) break out of prison in order to reunite with his daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman).
When they discover their former associate Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant) has become Lord of Neverwinter and has become a surrogate father to Kira, the duo learn that things are not exactly what they seem. Apparently, the mage working with Forge has bigger and darker plans for the city, and it will take a team of specialists to storm the castle, steal the treasure, save the girl, and protect the city.
Darvis and Kilgore recruit apprentice mage Simon Aumar (Justice Smith) and tiefling druid Doric (Sophia Lillis), but in order to gain access to the castle’s treasury, they’ll have to scour graveyards, team up with the ultimate paladin Xenk Yandar (Regé-Jean Page) for a one-off campaign, and then get attuned to the Helm of Disjunction before Sofina (Daisy Head) steals all of the city’s souls.
It’s an action-adventure movie that knows its intended audience well, and it doubles as a heist movie with a fantasy setting. The potent action scenes are well-thought out, and the characters — while streamlined — come into their own. Rodriguez, the baddest of barbs, takes on an entire team of guards inside a smithy. The editing and action deftly balances chaos and characterization, and when the conclusion of the skirmish nets her a modded molten axe, the reward seems most appropriate.
Lillis’ Doric gets the best sequence of all after her reconnaissance mission goes awry. Switching between various forms in order to evade capture, she chooses the right animal for each moment — a swift-footed deer for sprinting, a cat for safe landings, and a rat for squeezing through some really tight spots. The one-shot take is immersive and full of surprises. If it doesn’t get your pulse pounding, you might want to check if you even have one.
The filmmaking team is the MVP for the movie. The casting is brilliant, and the plot — however wild and stacked-on — never feels convoluted or trite. Though it might feel like some of the plot points go from dot to dot a bit too cleanly, it’s all part of the Dungeons and Dragons experience. When it comes to role-playing, dungeon masters put their players on pedestals for the most optimal of experiences.
And that’s what the filmmakers do for the on-screen characters. Where other action-adventure movies skimp over the special effects and feel like they’re only giving us as much as the budget would allow, Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves introduces us to a group of lovable low-level heroes who spend the duration of movie leveling up before our eyes.
When the group meets up with Page’s Xenk, the movie goes meta. Xenk leads the four into the treacherous Underdark to find the movie’s macguffin, but it’s a perfectly played scenario that mirrors what happens to real-life D&Ders who find themselves joined with a mismatched fifth.
Xenk power-levels the team through dangerous traps and situations and then suddenly departs. He’s the ultimate D&Der crashing the party with his high-level character sheet, and he’s immediately missed as he beelines it back to wherever he hails from. Page’s deadpan delivery and pitch-perfect preening make him the ultimate foil to Pine’s brash and rough-around-the-edges bard.
If you’re potentially turned off because you’re not a D&D afficionado, I went into it with a level-1 type of understanding of the world and its mechanics, yet I still had a lot of fun. I imagine anyone who’s spent hours creating, playing, and developing their characters will have an even better time recognizing all of the important names.
My hope is it succeeds at the box office because it’s a world I’d love to return to. Maybe I’ll have to find a roleplaying group to tide me over in the meantime.
Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023)
Directed by: John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
Screenplay by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, and Michael Gilio
Starring: Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Hugh Grant, Chloe Coleman, Daisy Head, Spencer Wilding, Will Irvine, and Nicholas Blane
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