Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Review – Die Hard

Anyone worried that the endless pre-publicity videos for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves have spoiled too much should know this: They’ve spoiled quite a bit, but completely out of order and context. Also, thankfully, the script is so full of good lines and gags that there’s no way to give all of them away. You might not be surprised by specific plot points, just as you wouldn’t be surprised in a D&D game to enter a dungeon and encounter a dragon. The pleasure is in how it all comes together, and on that score — and many others — the movie is a winner. If you only see one movie this month in which magic brings fantasy creatures to life, make it this one.

Honor Among Thieves is very funny, which may not be to every fan’s taste, but it’s an in-universe humor that never trivializes the setting or circumstances. We’ve come a long way since Marlon Wayans’ mugging and Lee Arenberg’s growling in the 2000 film, which was both cheap-looking and overly camp. The new movie balances character-appropriate comedy with high stakes the same way The Princess Bride and the fantasy films of Terry Gilliam did decades ago.

Indeed, it’s not hyperbole to suggest that for a new generation of kids, this may become a formative fantasy classic. It also features a few good frights, including one hair-raising jump-scare, and a decidedly creepy villain in Daisy Head’s red wizard Sofina.

Bard/spy/thief Edgin (Chris Pine) and his best platonic drinking buddy, Holga the barbarian (Michelle Rodriguez), begin the story in a snowy penitentiary, recounting the betrayal that led them there before breaking out and looking for redemption. See, their old buddy Forge (Hugh Grant), a rogue and con-man, did what rogues and con-man tend to, which was betray them as well. He’s now a mini-despot in the realm of Neverwinter, in league with an evil wizard (Head). And he has Edgin’s daughter.

Putting together a team to save the girl and give Forge his comeuppance proves a lot more complicated than it seems, requiring several mini-quests. As one would hope, they involve fantasy tropes both familiar (dragons) and specific to D&D (owlbear!). Directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Game Night) spend the budget well — they have made an immersive, panoramic world that never feels shot on a soundstage or massive screen. A world filled with all manner of game-specific creatures, with some as mere throwaways but others more integral to the plot.

Goldstein and Daley prove surprisingly adept with action and effects, pulling off at least one applause-worthy chase scene involving shape-shifting druid Doric (Sophia Lillis). They’ve loaded nearly every frame with visual references, but even non-gamers who don’t catch them should at least appreciate the general attention to details. The plot also incorporates moments of game mechanics in creative ways, like Simon the sorcerer (Justice Smith) having a personal dial on his belt to adjust his spell levels. Or an arena maze that keeps reconfiguring at regular intervals.

Best of all, each character in their own way embodies a different type of player. Paladin Xenk (Rege-Jean Page) is the most obvious. At one point, he reels off trap-solving rules so complicated they resemble those of the most sadistically math-obsessed Dungeon Master you’ve ever encountered. Other characters might love to hear lore, or want to get to the fights quickly, or overly question the logic of the rules. If you’ve played the game, however you did it, there’s probably an avatar here for your style. It’s a shame we don’t get more of Xenk, who’s in the movie far less than expected. But he completely owns the scenes that he’s in.

Perhaps none of this would matter if the characters weren’t relatable — again, as in the 2000 movie. But Honor Among Thieves also hits some emotional beats with aplomb, particularly regarding “found families” of folks rejected from previous clans of their own. Then, when it comes to the villains, the alliance of smiling, dishonest profiteer-entertainer-politician Forge with Sofina, a flat-out evil zealot looking to enslave the world, well…it feels like not-so-thinly veiled political commentary. But it may be loose enough to allow audiences on all sides to apply their own framing to it.

Pine and Rodriguez have played variations on these characters before, but they make both surprisingly vulnerable here as well. Not only does that make their humor feel more authentically derived from pain, but it also helps portray a rare, great platonic male-female friendship. Even if Edgin weren’t obsessed with his dead wife, Holga makes very clear what her type of guy is, and it’s a far cry from what he can offer. Lillis and Smith are meant to be the couple with potential chemistry; it’s one of the film’s few minor failings that they don’t really convey it. D&D gaming sessions aren’t typically thought of as romantic events anyway, so maybe that’s just fine.

For its characters, for entertainment value, and the creation of a larger world that suggests many more possibilities, Honor Among Thieves casts a glorious spell. There’s a lot here that could have easily gone wrong, and has done so in other, similar features. With a lot of work and plenty of corporate treasure, however, all the saving throws clearly paid off. Should this become a new cinematic franchise, long may it drag on.

Grade: 4.5/5

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves opens in theaters on Friday, March 31.

Recommended Reading: Dungeons & Dragons: Fell’s Five

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