‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves’ review: Quest love and the friends you met along the way | SXSW
Behind the core of the role playing fantasy board game Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) lies the simple idea that makes audiences go to the movies; compelling storytelling. From its inception, friends gather together in comic book shops, basements, or any place with a large table around the world to go on quests that will lead them down challenging roads of survival with only their character’s created skills and knowledge to forge a team. Once your team comes together, your mission is to defeat the game created by the Game Master (the person in charge of creating obstacles in the game). I’ve witnessed firsthand (but never played) the intense strategy and skill it takes to defeat the game, the constant curveballs the Game Master can present, and the excitement and joy it can bring if everything goes according to plan. So when watching directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley take a stab at the existing IP with their newest film Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, you can tell from the get go that you are in the right hands with people who have played the game and understand the level of entertainment this can bring an audience.
We begin with Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine), a bard who has become a thief in order to support his daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) after losing his wife to his selfish ways during his time as a Harper, an order of spies and spellcasters who look to protect the world from any form of abusive power that invades their lands. Alongside his friend Holga (Michelle Rodriquez), they have created a little bit of a life together as the authorities chase them. Throw in Simon (Justice Smith), a sorcerer with low self-esteem, and Forge (Hugh Grant), a con man looking for his next chance to get gold, they have created a little family of thieves. But when asked to go on a mission to retrieve a resurrection tablet and other riches, Edgin can’t resist the opportunity to bring back his wife, as the tablet grants you the wish of bringing back one person who has left their world for the great beyond. They accept the mission, and as they are about to wrap it up, Edgin and his team’s heist is sabotaged by Sofina (Daisy Head), a Red Wizard looking to destroy the world and use an army of the dead to wipe out humanity. Edgin and Holga are sent to prison for trying to steal the tablet, leaving Kira in the care of Forge, and Simon hiding away from his past.
Right from the opening prison sequence, we are introduced to the loose, humorous style the film will lean on throughout its runtime, as Edgin and Holga use a council member deciding their parole to fly out of the prison they are held in and escape to find Kira and bring their family back together. But once they return home, they realize that Forge is now the ruler of their kingdom, made a deal with Sofina, and turned Kira against Edgin. In order to stop Forge and Sofina and get back his daughter, Edgin, alongside Holga, recruit Simon and a shapeshifter named Doric (Sophia Lillis) to help them come up with a plan to save the world and the people they love.
Within this band of misfits lies a cast who perfectly balance one another to form a solid team of fighters capable of defeating their enemies. Pine uses his signature charm and charisma to turn in another strong performance as the group’s leader, sprinkling in some musical moments of levity to know exactly how to carry the emotional moments with his daughter and give Edgin a true redemption story. Alongside him, Rodriguez shines as well, giving Holga a hard exterior at first, letting her fists do most of the talking. But as the film plays out, she opens up and becomes a great partner in crime alongside Pine. Grant, Smith, and Lillis deliver strong supporting performances, with each getting multiple scenes to show off their character’s good and bad traits, as well as comedic chops that create a good balance of tone with the bombastic action sequences going on around them. But the ultimate scene stealer is Regé-Jean Page as Xenk Yendar, who is a warrior who must help Edgin and his crew on a side mission that requires them to fight a very large, rotund dragon. Page’s deadpan delivery matches Pine in every measure, making his scenes stand out as the funniest in the film.
The cast really does the heavy lifting due to the fact that if you aren’t familiar with the game and its rules and characters, you can get lost at the beginning and it derails from the whole experience. A lot of information is dumped within the first forty-five minutes of the movie to set up the world we see for the remaining runtime, and while it is a lot to handle, Goldstein and Daley are smart enough filmmakers to realize that if they are going to keep dumping more and more lore at an audience, at least do it in an entertaining way. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is always moving because that is the nature of the game. There is no time to take a break and relax, it is a game about moving forward to find a solution, and in the case of the film, the solution to any of its confusion lies in giving the audience enough entertaining, hilarious moments to delight.
This is a far cry from the original Dungeons & Dragons film that came out many moons ago, which is considered one of the worst movies of the last thirty years and killed any potential of this IP from morphing into something special. However, with Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, and Goldstein and Daley behind the wheel and setting up the pieces, there is enough humor and heart here to make you want to sign up and become part of future quests with Pine and the whole gang. Or at the very least, makes you want to call your friends over and go on a quest together.
This review is from the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. Paramount Pictures will release Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves in theaters on March 31, 2023.