The time is finally right for a big studio to get behind a Dungeons & Dragons movie, and Paramount certainly delivers the goods in Honor Among Thieves.
In all fairness, particularly to the infamous critical and commercial 2000 flop, the odds are hardly stacked against such an endeavor. The demand for nerd culture and escapism is at an all-time high. Effects, especially CGI, have long since caught up to big-screen ambitions. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been providing that blueprint for years.
There may even be some arbitrary bonus points for the fact that an action-packed banter-fueled fantasy isn’t an MCU product for once, even if Honor does borrow very liberally from the House of Mouse playbook. Chris Pine is the handsome, charismatic hero with a tragic family backstory. He comes complete with an angelically deceased wife and endless quips. A team of carefully packaged underdogs joins Pine to take on a villain who doubles as a foil.
What makes the difference is that Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves mostly allows its cast to bring on the fun without having to satisfy wider cinematic universe years in the making, including whatever series has a word to bring in edgewise. Arbitrary, to be sure, but so is Disney’s need to own everything. That means far more room to roam. Pine’s backstory is the pivot as our unlikely adventurers roam through location after location at breakneck speed. At least he’s not the center of power.
The Characters Make Dungeons & Dragons Truly Shine
Pine’s Edgin is, in fact, so powerless as to be nearly useless in a fight. The real muscle is reserved for his platonic partner and fighting expert Holga (Michelle Rodriguez, because women still aren’t going to get by on sheer presence alone), mostly inept sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith), and shapeshifting druid Doric (Sophia Lillis). Sofina (Daisy Head) masterminds the betrayal that kicks off their quest. This heel turn is obvious that her motives hardly warrant exploration.
Especially not when you have Hugh Grant’s Forge front and center to cloak their schemes in sheer charm in a role Grant was born to love every minute of playing. He’ll be a villain you’ll love to hate as he gleefully sells out everyone to unequivocal bad guys for his own gain, while the hustlers with the hearts of gold go all out to stop him in sequences that include a corpse scavenger hunt and, of course, a dragon. A fantasy movie of this type without a dragon is akin to a pirate movie without a high-seas skirmish.
The group chemistry, along with countless nods to the nerd culture the movie proudly embraces without the need for justification to outsiders (finally!), proves so fun it’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly is the highlight as Honor Among Thieves breezes through its 2 hours and 14-minute runtime. If there were a prize for scene stealer, it would likely be awarded to Regé-Jean Page as Xenk. His warrior effortlessly outshines the group as Page satires his romance novel reputation. Additionally, his inability to embrace a pun effortlessly holds its own with Guardians of the Galaxy’s Drax the Destroyer. In a movie lacking any romantic tension, Xenk’s repartee with Edgin is what will no doubt launch a thousand ships.
Honor Among Thieves Embraces Its Dungeons & Dragons Roots
A warning: if you see Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves with anyone familiar with RPG history, be prepared for many excited explanations of the various callbacks, including the 80’s cartoon. Knowledge isn’t necessary for viewership power, though. There’s a careful merging of VFX and practicality. Filming on-site in Iceland and Ireland lends some much-needed fresh air. These franchises typically allow green screens to stand in for characters and settings.
One fact still rules all though if any woman is thinking of settling down with a hero, which Larkin inadvertently warned of: “Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out as early as you can, and don’t have any kids yourself.”