The Dungeons and Dragons franchise has had ups and downs since its creation. First, the role-playing game established a devoted fanbase, was used as a source of fear-mongering, and has been on the big and little screen. Then, 2000 gave fans a live adaptation of the well-known RPG with a trilogy that didn’t fit the caliber it deserved. Basically, the movies were beaten to a pulp by fans of D&D, regular moviegoers, and most critics. Finally, somebody at Paramount Pictures decided to give this IP another try with Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves and might have finally struck gold.
The 2023 movie, directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, has the duo writing alongside Michael Gilio for this new adaptation. The film stars Chris Pine (Edgin), Michelle Rodriguez (Holga), and Justin Smith (Simon). Sophia Lillis (Doric) and Hugh Grant (Forge) round out the bunch – while Grant does his typical Bubbling-British-man shtick. The colorful cast of characters goes on a quest in a magical land where they’ll use a series of banters, quips, fighting, and sorcery to save the land of Neverwinter.
It’s pretty much a cross between James Gunn‘s Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, and Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride. The film takes parts of these properties, puts them in a blender, and makes a thoroughly entertaining action adventure that warrants a second helping.
The first thing that makes Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves a well-worthy adaptation is the teamwork between Daley and Goldstein. The two have utilized their talent in situational comedy with a slight twinge of action to keep the movie engaging. A case in point is a superb long-take shot during the pursuit of one of our heroes. Doric, a Tiefling druid, uses her changeling-like powers to make a quick getaway that evolves into some excellent camera work that is very striking.
Several more excellent art direction choices are sprinkled throughout the film. One scene that comes to mind is when the movie calls for gravity-defying moments to convey the magic used in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. The wizard Simon uses his sorcery in an intense situation to get out of, and Daley and Goldstein skillfully showcase their directing skills. The duo does it a second time when Doric must succeed in the first steps of the planned heist.
The directors use practical effects with complex camera moves to show off a really cool flip of the character as the focal point. For example, the perspective of Doric is spun onto another plain while stepping through a portal. This technique happens in a manner that would impress even Christopher Nolan. Yet, Daley and Goldstein teaming up with Gilio on the script add a level of humor that fits the movie perfectly.
Many sword and sorcery projects tend to have a dialect that’s more fitting of that world. Of course, some exceptions exist, such as Game of Thrones and other television programs or movies. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves does make the dialogue much more relatable to today’s audience while not poking fun at the franchise. This notion makes the comedic nature of the film land better when the scene calls for without going the “slapstick” route. Even great gags set up in earlier parts of the story pay off in a much deserving way.
Another illustration of excellent writing is that the script gives the right amount of information for the world-building portion without holding my hand too tightly. The monsters, weapons, and areas within this world are explained in ways to make it digestible while paying respect to the D&D fanbase. I’ve never played a game of Dungeons and Dragons in my life, but I was able to embrace the concepts of the film entirely.
Lastly, the acting in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is another reason to check out the film. Pine brings a charm that doesn’t feel out of place – his dramatic acting is a bit more on the “meh” side. Smith and Lillis work nicely in bouncing off one another and match well with the rest of the cast bantering moments. However, I gravitated further toward Michelle Rodriguez’s performance. She’s more of the story’s heart, and her “tough girl with a soft heart” works perfectly for the role. Also, her action set pieces indicate that her years in the Fast and Furious movies are paying off.
Some might be turned off by the magical nature of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, but the movie is worth watching. I thought the film would be up its ass, but what played out was a fun story with great acting, nice VFX, and well-executed action sequences. Truthfully, I wouldn’t be surprised if news of a sequel was greenlit, which I think we all need.