Friday, April 21, 2023

Green Phoenix - Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Review

A circle of seven people looking down

I'm sure it is little surprise to those of you out there who have read my work for a long time to know that I am a massive fan of the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons. I have been playing for years with my friends and been following many of the most popular livestream games out there, like Critical Role and Dimension 20. I don't think it is much of an exaggeration to describe ourselves as living in a renaissance for the roleplaying genre and to acknowledge the sheer ubiquity in popular culture as of late, especially in terms of television and movies.

Dungeons & Dragons presence within the television and film spheres in the last few years was largely limited to The Legend of Vox Machina (which we have already discussed in previous articles) and with the abysmal Dungeons and Dragons movie from the early 2000s (a film that has rightfully earned a bad cult classic reputation). Beyond that, we've had small independent films like The Gamers trilogy, which was one of the first pieces of media that really got me involved in the community (thanks Dorkness Rising). And of course, we've had the occasional reference to the hobby in various pieces of media like Stranger Things or My Little Pony, though these references tend to focus on the fans of the hobby rather than the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons specifically.

Thus when I heard that Hasbro was working with Paramount to release a big-budget Dungeons & Dragons movie, I must admit that I was immensely excited at the prospect. Hoping for a humorous and well-written exploration of the Dungeons & Dragons, I eagerly anticipated the release of Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.

And then, the fucking Open Gaming Lisence debacle happened and I was stuck having to morally boycott the film until Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast got the idea that they could steal from their fanbase and microtransaction an improv game that I play with my friends on the weekend, when it is stupidly easy to make your own game system, was a terrible business decision. The loss of millions of dollars of revenue from boycotts, cancelled subscriptions to DnDBeyond and the irrevocable damage to relationships with previously well-regarded content creators; as well as the genuine threat of losing millions on a film that would otherwise have been a guaranteed hit finally made them back down, thankfully.

And thus, I was able to go with my sister and watch Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves safe in the knowledge that my cinematic hobby wouldn't financially contribute to the downfall of my roleplaying hobby. But was the film even worth the millions Hasbro risked in their series of poor business decisions?

  • Directed by Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley
  • Produced by Paramount Pictures and Hasbro
  • Runtime: 134 Minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13


After being captured during a heist gone wrong, the bard Edgin Darvis and barbarian Holga Kilgore escape from prison with the intention of recovering Edgin's daughter from the custody of their former associate Forge Fitzwilliam, a rogue con-man. However, it is soon revealed that Forge betrayed their party and has teamed up with a dangerous red wizard known as Sofina, who seeks to create an undead army to take over the world.
In order to stop Forge, recover Edgin's daughter, and defeat Sofina, Edgin and Holga will have to create an "elite" team of adventurers to break into Forge's castle. What follows is a comedy of errors as the most unlikely of heroes try desperately to save the world.



Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is, in my opinion, a perfectly average, perhaps slightly above average heist film. The film has a decent mix of unique action sequences and the overall plot is well-paced and makes logical sense (I actually think their use of portals during the heist was inspired and something I may utilize in my own games of D&D). The film additionally keeps itself very much grounded as a comedy which I think it is the proper tone for any Dungeons & Dragons property as I have always described D&D campaigns as Lord of the Rings if the cast was comprised of the cast of Monty Python.
Despite these facts, I also unfortunately cannot say that the film was particularly memorable except for a few sequences which had me rolling on the floor (Chris Pine's distracting the guards with his lute still has me giggling almost two weeks after watching the movie). The film isn't awful, I just can't help but think that something could've been changed or altered to help make the movie more memorable or impactful for the audience. This includes visuals, which in this day and age really should go without saying that most high-budget films are going to at least look decent.
The characters look like they should, the setting design successfully serves the scale and tone of the film when necessary, and the films visual help to keep the piece grounded in a way that preserves stakes without jeopardizing a general sense of wonder. As a D&D player, I could easily imagine myself doing all the things I see in this film and easily identifying what spells and features were in play.

The overall averageness of the film also goes into the score, as I genuinely cannot recall any standout musical motifs or segments. The film does the usual work with music by making it serve the story without standing out in any meaningful way. The soundtrack likely wouldn't stand on its own without accompanying visuals and I'm not sure that I could link any song to any specific scene it was in. The soundtrack served the story and nothing more, but at least it wasn't horrible or didn't fit the overall tone and aesthetic the film was going for.
As it is, I think its a serviceable opening entry for anyone interested in Dungeons and Dragons, though even in this capacity I do hold a single reservation.

When watching the movie, I was struck by the lack of references or meta context for the game of D&D. When I think of a Dungeons and Dragons movie, I sort of expected some kind of fourth wall reference or implication that we were watching the actors playing their characters in a set campaign. That is not what we got and whilst I don't think that makes the film terrible, it does have me thinking of this movie more as a Faerun (the main setting of Dungeons and Dragons modules, or self-contained stories, as players can easily create their own custom settings and campaigns as well) movie, rather than a generalized D&D film; since the backstory of Faerun plays such an essential part in the movies' plot.
This isn't necessarily a criticism, just an observation. As I have tended to always play in my friends own settings, setting the film in Faerun did help to at least give everyone a level playing field. The fact that this also allowed Wizards of the Coast to introduce Edgin and his friends as elements of accompanying Dungeons and Dragons content on DnDBeyond probably didn't hurt either.
Speaking of the cast, Dungeons and Dragons has always been a cooperative improvisational role-playing game so any film adaptation of the franchise needed to get the characters and their interactions with each other down well. Thankfully, just like The Legend of Vox Machina, it is here where Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves truly rises to the occasion. The film actually goes out of its way to make us sympathize and feel for the protagonists, especially Edgin (played by Chris Pine). The film actually spends its first 15 minutes going through his and Holga Kilgore's (played by Michelle Rodriguez) backstories, just like two players introducing themselves at the start of a D&D campaign. Edgin and Holga have great chemistry and they form the core of our band of adventurers with great humor and wonderful banter.
Following our bard (who doesn't actually do any magic in the film that I can recall) and barbarian, we have Simon Aumar (played by Justin Smith), the neurotic sorceror descended from Elminster (the greatest wizard in Faerun history), and Doric (played by Sophia Lillis), the tiefling druid desperate to save her people from Forge's destruction of her homeland. Simon's story is great and his character progression feels earned and tied to genuine moments that would define a player's campaign experience (the manner of attuning that is used here makes so much more sense than rules as written). These four join forces with a paladin named Xenk (played by Regé-Jean Page of Bridgerton fame) through a series of misadventures in order to even get to the aforementioned heist.
The cast works well together, though I do believe that Doric is seriously sidelined and isn't really given a whole lot to say or do that isn't purely mechanical. Actually now that I think about it, Doric doesn't really have a great deal of personality at all in this film and only has a few moments of notable character interaction independent of how useful she is in combat or stealth (a feature for which she is basically carrying the whole damn team). In addition, Xenk is treated like a fifth member of the party in advertisement but this is absolutely in no way reflective of his actual role in the story. If this were a D&D game, I would almost liken Xenk to being a guest player invited in to play a few sessions than a dedicated member of the group. His role is important, just not as big as I think we were led to believe by marketing.

Past our main cast, we also have Forge Fitzwilliam who serves as a great bumbling antagonist to our heroes. He's not at all threatening but his emotional control over Edgin's daughter provides a great thematic contrast to our main character (and Edgin is the main character in this outing). I won't call him a villain because he is ultimately a pawn of a much bigger bad guy and his presence is largely needed to facilitate the heist which underpins the entire drama.
No, as far as villains go; it is Sofina that takes that spot. Her role is largely passive throughout much of the film, more an all-powerful presence than a ever-present threat, but the final fight sequence really goes all out in showing just how powerful the Red Priest truly was. Though I was a little surprised we didn't see a little bit more with the final fight, as fighting a necromancer of Sofina's quality (known in the game as an archmage) is a campaign defining fight. I expected a bit more but I suppose Hasbro and Wizards felt they needed to provide a more down-to-earth experience than going all out on just how weird D&D can get (no beholders or illithids or feywild, just dungeons and dragons and necromancers).

Based on this film's performance and scale, I honestly wouldn't be too surprised if a future D&D movie might be made that explores other elements of the game setting, possibly even introducing audiences to iconic monsters and villains. As it stands, while I might not be chomping at the bit for another D&D movie, I could defintely see myself enjoying another outing in Faerun in a purely cinematic setting.

I've stated it many times in the past but not every film needs to be transformative, sometimes it just needs to entertain for a few hours and Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves absolutely accomplishes this.
  • 7/10
  • 6/10
  • 8/10
  • 5/10

 FINAL SCORE - 6.5/10

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