“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” finally cracks the codex
When I was a kid in the early ’80s, I was in middle school. It was the height of the Satanic Panic.
Be it music or movies, the hands of concerned Christian parents were wringing. I was a nerd with nerdy friends who had somewhat privileged access to TRS-80 and Commadore computers, just to play rudimentary video games—particularly text (and early graphical) fantasy adventures like “Zork” and “King’s Quest” among others—all of which exemplified why none of us had girlfriends.
But “Dungeons & Dragons,” a basic-as-it-gets pen and paper game, to be played with a group of like-minded geeks, gathered around a table like a coven, rolling dice, fighting monsters, casting spells, finding treasures, avoiding traps, getting into adventures, and being imaginative, was a part of that panic. It was a fantasy of freeform storytelling with its own set rules that some adults viewed with confusion, at best, and, at worst, fear. Ironically, and like most of things they get upset about, it all just fed into “Dungeons & Dragons” massive cultural popularity.
So, obviously, there needed to be a movie.
The first one (aside from the 1982 television film, “Mazes and Monsters”, and a short-lived animated series) came along in 2000, simply titled “Dungeons & Dragons”.
They tried. Despite an affable sense of humor and a game cast including a scenery-chewing Jeremy Irons, along with Thora Birch and Marlon Wayans, the film—suffering from Playstation 2-level special FX and a weak leading man (Justin Whalin, who has since moved on to become a social studies and drama teacher in Canada) —was so disappointing that the following two sequels, 2005’s “Wrath of the Dragon God” and 2012’s “The Book of Vile Darkness,” went straight to video. I never saw them. For all I know, they’re better.
Fast forward to 2023. Because it took that long.
Essentially a heist film, we meet Edgin the Bard (Chris Pine), a sort of flawed Guardian Angel working for The Harpers, a band of peacekeepers doing good and delivering justice. But then, his wife gets a case of the dead, Edgin gets arrested, and their daughter, Kira (Chloe Coleman) is kidnapped by the acolytes of a Red Wizard (Jason Wong). Years later, after a stint in prison, Edgin joins forces with his barbarian friend Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) and a crew of fantastical, misfit thieves—a sorcerer, paladin, and druid—who generally have a good time being charming and making trouble.
Meanwhile, Kira has become something of a stepdaughter to Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant, clearly having as much fun as everyone else), a former comrade of Edgin, who has risen to power and immense wealth as the Lord of Neverwinter. Edgin wants to be Kira’s father again. But, more importantly, he wants to find the Tablet of Reawakening, so that he might resurrect his dead wife and reunite their family.
Long story short (too late), “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is a blast. Fun, funny, and completely self-aware, I guess it is no surprise the Phil Lord and Chris Miller (the producers of “Cocaine Bear”) are tangentially involved, owing to Chris McKay’s (“Lego Batman”) story credit. Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathon Goldstein establish a jaunty, mirthful pace, while infusing a sense of gravity to the more dramatic, sincere elements of the tale—none of which weighs down the proceedings with saccharine sentimentality. The sense of fun and cheeky humor meld deftly with the myriad hat tips to fans of the game, particularly the magical and fantastic creatures, and plot mechanics that recall a real D&D campaign. If you want a gelatinous cube to be a punchline, this is a flick that is definitely your jam.
That light-hearted sensibility is brought to life by the game cast, all of whom know what movie they are in and lean into it with enthusiasm. The creature FX are serviceable, but nothing that would blow your mind—the real FX here are the charisma, charm and chemistry of the characters who own the big screen. As it should be.
So, yeah. It took long enough, but “Honor Among Thieves” is a wildly entertaining payoff to the patience of D&D fans.
“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is currently playing in theatres.