A Film by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
I had my concerns with Hollywood once again attempting to make a Dungeons & Dragons (I will be lazy and say “D&D” from here on) film in 2023, considering the last three have been rough, and increasingly so. For the longest time, it was a property that seemed off-limits due to its asinine association with the eighties and nineties “Satanic Panic” largely due to evangelicals being misled into thinking that the game was somehow an initiation to “real witchcraft”, most notably in the infamous “Dark Dungeons” religious tract (image below). There was a short-lived Saturday morning cartoon that was cancelled before it was able to produce all of its episodes, likely because of the growing media coverage of the moral outrage. D&D was almost hit with the infamous “cancel culture” long before that became a political buzzword, and it was not until the year 2000 when the tides started turning. To coincide with the recent release of a new iteration of the game, Dungeons and Dragons Third Edition, a Hollywood feature was in the works.
The 2000 iteration was something I was initially excited for, going as far as seeing it in theaters (back then I didn’t do that much), and somehow, they managed to make the blandest and most uninspired fantasy film I had ever seen at the time. When the highlight of a film is a random cameo by Tom Baker, of Doctor Who fame, in a random “blink and you miss it” role, something is wrong with your film. This was followed up by two direct-to-video “sequels”, both made on a shoestring budget, that basically nobody outside of the most die-hard D&D fan even knew about, much less watched. D&D does very well in the gaming market, but as a multimedia franchise it always struggled. What none of these films seemed to understand is that you can’t just toss a bunch of random fantasy elements into a film and slap a logo on the front and call it a day – D&D has a “vibe”, and no movie up to this point had captured it. That is, thankfully, until the release of Dungeons & Dragons – Honor Among Thieves, a film that actually feels like a D&D campaign brought to life. I went into this movie basically expecting nothing and came out with a huge smile on my face because of how fun it was.
“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.”
First and foremost, this is the first film in this “series” to take the source material seriously and actually utilize the broad breadth of D&D lore and worldbuilding to its favor. First and foremost, we see more races than just humans and elves this time around. The film shows a world populated by halflings (think of hobbits for those not in the know), Tieflings (devilish in appearance), the Aarakocra (bird people basically), and your typical blend of elves, dwarves, and more. Next, we have actual canonical places from the books used in the film – cities such as Neverwinter and the Underdark, a massive, underground cavern packed full of vile monsters.
If anyone watching the film has ever played a recent version of the game, one could basically start to put together bits of the setting, spells, and even character stats for various people based on what unfolds in the film, which is kind of cool. Otherwise, the movie is made in a way where that sort of foreknowledge is not needed and it’s just Easter Eggs for the nerds, while the normies just have a cool story to watch. Having the little bits and bops for the hardened fans and keeping it simple as not to alienate new fans is a tightrope walk for sure, but Dungeons & Dragons – Honor Among Thieves is able to pull it off.
The principal characters in the film are anchored in this world well, and as stated before, one can somewhat see what race / class /and other fine details of their characters are. If one wanted, I’m sure you could make some sort of character sheets and recreate or make homage version of them to an extent.
- Edgin Darvis – A Human Bard – as played by Chris Pine
- Holga Kilgore – A Human Barbarian – as played by
- Doric – A Tiefling Druid
- Forge Fitzwilliam – A Human Rogue
- Simon Aumar – A Half-Elf Sorcerer
- Sofina – An Undead Human Red Wizard of Thay
- Xenk Yendar – A Human Lawful Good Paladin
Every character has a valid place in the cast, and every character has something to do. Everyone has a solid backstory and motivation for being in the party. The problem with a lot of films like this is that you end up with a stoic hero, a love interest, and a comedy sidekick, however this film breaks the mold entirely and is very refreshing as a result. Edgin is trying to bring back a dead loved one that he blames himself for killing, Simon comes from a long line of master sorcerers and is having trouble living up to his name, Holga left her tribe and was shunned for a romance that she ultimately had trouble keeping, and Doric is trying to help save her people from enslavement and death by one of the villains of the story and operates as a member of a liberation group / terrorist cell of sorts. The fact that the characters are all three-dimensional makes this one of the better fantasy films I’ve seen in a long time.
While Dungeons & Dragons – Honor Among Thieves is not going to win any visual effects Academy Awards anytime soon, some of the special effects were pretty cool and one can easily tell that some real money has been spent on the production. I think a lot of the fun in those effects lies in seeing some of the more underutilized D&D Creatures like Owlbears, Displacer beasts, Gelatinous cubes, and some atypical dragons on the big screen as opposed to some of the more standard fantasy monsters that are usually brought out. Overall, this movies direction gives it a lot of its own character without just coming across like a made-for-TV ripoff of The Lord of the Rings, like many fantasy properties end up.
Overall, I was a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons – Honor Among Thieves in just about every way. I truly hope that it gains enough traction to warrant a sequel as there were a few things left that could easily open up future installments if they chose to do so. My son loved the movie despite its somewhat long runtime, even remarking that the movie was over too soon. For adults and children alike, the right mix of action, drama, and comedy is sometimes hard to pull off, but here I feel that the production staff has really succeeded. If you are a fan of D&D and you have not seen this film as of yet, you really should do yourself a favor and take a trip to the theaters in order to watch it. It seems that it has a great chance of becoming a franchise, and I’d love to see that happen for sure.