Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, 2023.
Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein.
Starring Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Hugh Grant, Jason Wong, Chloe Coleman, Spencer Wilding, Will Irvine, Nicholas Blane, Bryan Larkin, Sarah Amankwah, Colin Carnegie, Georgia Landers, Sophia Nell Huntley, Clayton Grover, Ian Hanmore, Paul Bazely, Kenneth Collard, Hayley-Marie Axe, and Daisy Head.
A charming thief and a band of unlikely adventurers embark on an epic quest to retrieve a lost relic, but things go dangerously awry when they run afoul of the wrong people.
When Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (co-writing alongside Michael Gilio with a story from Chris McKay) opt to educate D&D newbies on the world, characters, mystical creatures, and lore through showing (such as adorable brutal owl-bear hybrid), the adventure is inviting and fun. There’s joy in discovering what has made D&D stand the test of time as arguably the most popular role-playing board game in existence, even if many of its ideas are not only familiar but have been retooled for other properties (there is a nifty walking stick that can shoot a pair of teleportation portals reminiscent of the videogame Portal).
Then there is another set of jokes and references that feel specifically designed for fan service without much explanation, occasionally closing off how far one can get invested in the narrative. It also comes across as forced pandering, which would be forgivable if it didn’t happen so often and wasn’t so obvious. By the end of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, one doesn’t come away with much more knowledge or a deeper appreciation for the board game’s fantasy universe, partially because the narrative is so insistent on functioning as a cliche story about the family people make throughout their lives. Unfortunately, those characters here don’t have any depth beyond their game class or where they come from.
The upside is that the script has mostly found the right tone, aside from a few scenes taking themselves a bit too seriously (the ending lands emotionally because it involves a tough choice that says something about who these characters are and what matters now). Anytime someone monologues about past mistakes, relationship woes, or an ongoing war that means nothing, considering there is hardly any context to it, it’s a blessing that the moment is inevitably broken up by someone making a joke and putting things back to a more fitting, cheesy mood.
Opening up with a heap of exposition introducing Edgin (Chris Pine), a former Harper (a network of spies that also means nothing since the flashback glosses over that portion of his life and the movie never really engages with them as a faction) that left the group after they got his wife killed, forcing him to raise his daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) on his own. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is also the kind of movie that gives Kira a magical object granting her invisibility, just because. Anyway, Edgin befriended warrior Holga (Michelle Rodriguez, admittedly delivering a bruising physical performance throughout some competently crafted fight sequences), eventually expanding their rings by enlisting amateur wizard Simon (Justice Smith) and con man Forage (Hugh Grant) to pull off bigger, more rewarding heists.
You can probably guess which one of those characters betrays the group and is in full-on eccentric villain mode, becoming a king while everyone else is locked up and turning young Kira against her father while raising her with such strong manipulation that even when he returns, she is distrusting. The plot is so basic and uninvolving that none of this really matters; it’s all an excuse to send these characters on quests searching for legendary items that will help them defeat a Red Wizard (Daisy Head), put an end to the king’s tyranny, and obtain yet another magical artifact, one that is capable of reviving Edgin’s dead wife. Along the way, they meet a shapeshifter with a grudge against humans (Sophia Lillis) and a paladin who doesn’t understand jokes or sarcasm (Regé-Jean Page).
Admittedly, the production design is outstanding, especially when the film occurs in real environments and locations. Everything from the buildings to the loot to the fantastical objects simply looks expensive and colorful. When the story strays away from that and into green screen territory (some daytime CGI is also rough around the edges), it is less convincing and heightens the overall genericness of everything happening. Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley are also comfortable leaning into comedy, which adds some much-needed personality; a sequence involving briefly resurrecting and questioning the dead is especially hilarious. If anything, the film is funnier than it is exciting or enchanting.
Fans will probably have a blast and perhaps find something to appreciate in the story (maybe it’s intentionally corny and familiar to represent the kind of role-playing scenario players better might come up with one night). It’s also fair to say that Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is indeed temporarily endearing but loses steam (the pacing needs to be tightened up in the second half), and by its conclusion (save for a relatively moving ending), it is for diehards only.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com