Written by: Cameron Deslaurier
The feature image for this post was sourced from IMDb.
This post contains minor plot spoilers for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.
As an adaptation of Dungeons & Dragons for the big screen, Honor Among Thieves succeeds by staying true to the core of the well-loved tabletop role-playing game. Sadly, the low emotional stakes don’t quite build to the heart-pounding climax of an exceptionally played campaign or one-shot.
The adventure action-comedy received a 90% critic score and a 93% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes—solid across the board, even for critics who aren’t necessarily regular D&D players like many of the moviegoers who flocked to theaters for Tiamat popcorn buckets.
While Honor Among Thieves is full of fanservice and Easter eggs for long-time players, you don’t necessarily need to know anything about D&D to enjoy it, but it will certainly be an enhanced experience if you do. The film is self-aware, and some of the choices that make the movie feel like D&D might not be understood by people that haven’t played before. As an example, while the pacing might feel rushed for a traditional movie as the characters pop between rolling fields, an active volcano, and the Underdark, travel is the most skipped part of D&D, so it feels natural for this project.
The core party is comprised of Bard Edgin Darvis; Barbarian Holga Kilgore; Wild Magic Sorcerer Simon Aumar; Tiefling Druid Deric, who seems to be based on the Circle of the Moon subclass; Rogue Forge Fitzwilliam; and Paladin Xenk Yendar. Yendar feels a lot like the first overpowered non-player character that you meet or a high-level guest… and whose advice you foolishly ignore.
Each character has their own goals and personal blockages to overcome, but the plot focuses primarily on a heist to rescue Edgin’s estranged daughter and to steal an artifact that Edgin wants to use to bring back his deceased wife. Everything goes horribly off the rails, of course, and Plan A quickly becomes Plan D, which quickly has to change when the party accidentally enables the completion of a massive necrotic ritual years in the making. Oops? Guess we better clean that up!
The biggest struggle I had with the film was that Edgin’s story overshadows the rest of the party in a genre that’s usually all about teamwork and works hard to avoid spotlighting one character. His personality also suffers from the blandness of main-character-syndrome, and his ultimate decision about bringing back his wife, while demonstrative of character growth, was too predictable for me to be invested in his higher-order goals.
I would have preferred a well-executed, ensemble focused film with a bit more payoff for the rest of the party—especially Deric and Holga, whose action sequences were a thrill to watch, but whose arcs lacked nuance. Simon’s struggles with self-confidence may be predictable, but there’s a big payoff when he faces off with his insecurities in a fight.
That said, where the action is, it absolutely hits. The special effects are clean, and not overly flashy. Deric’s Wild Shape—an ability that allows Druids to transform into animals—is beautifully realized, with fluid transitions from creatures as different as a hawk and cat to a horse and owlbear. Which, if you’re unfamiliar, is exactly the monster it sounds like. Holga’s head-bashing fight scenes are intense but trackable, with creatively executed moves that had me cheering her on like I would a party member. The fights—including a party versus big-bad-evil-guy gang-up sequence—feel like theater of the mind has taken over a real theater.
The humor is sporadic but delivers. The Natural 1 reminiscent Major Illusion malfunction had me cackling, and Deric smashing a villain into the cobblestones as an owlbear was worthy of Hulk’s ‘puny god’ scene with Loki.
Disappointingly for film adapting a game wildly popular in LGBTQIA+ community, Honor Among Thieves is completely lacking in on-screen queer representation. To give credit where credit is due, it’s a big step in the right direction to cast openly LGBTQIA+ actors. The movie itself, however, soundly fails the Vito Russo test and barely passes the Bechdel test. It would’ve been a walk in the park too. D&D is a notorious ground for filtrating with friends, and it could’ve just been a matter of having a character wink at someone in a tavern. The bar is on the floor here, and the silence felt like a statement.
Whether you’ve never played D&D before or hoard bags of dice, Honor Among Thieves is an immersive, gorgeously rendered ode to the game that’s sure to get you itching to play—but know that when we play at home, the stories we can tell are even better.
If you’re interested in using the monsters in Honor Among Thieves or the party as NPCs, their stat blocks can be found at D&D Beyond!