I had very low expectations for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. From the trailers, I was expecting the same kind of processed, churned, scheduled sludge we’ve been seeing from the post-Infinity War MCU. This would’ve included things like a nonsensical plot, flimsy characters, and self-destructive worldbuilding.
However, I’m happy to say that the movie greatly exceeded those low expectations. I’m certain this film won’t be a poignant memory looked back upon for years to come. Regardless, it’s a harmless, entertaining, and simple story that doesn’t require a lot of thought to enjoy. Its brand recognition may be helpful in the marketing, but Honor Among Thieves stands on its own as a solid fantasy action/comedy.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves premiered in theaters everywhere on March 31.
Minor story spoilers ahead!
Story: Simple and Safe, but Fun
The story of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves follows Edgin Darvis. Edgin is a bard and former Harper, an order of peacekeeping spies, who abandoned the life of justice for ill-gotten riches. However, when he steals treasure from a faction known as the Red Wizards of Thay, the Red Wizards kill his wife in retribution. He then seeks a new life with his daughter, Kira, and a barbarian named Hulga Kilgore. Edgin and Hulga then form a team with the young sorcerer Simon Aumar, the rogue Forge Fitzwilliam, and a powerful wizard named Sofina, to infiltrate a Harper stronghold and recover a magical tablet that can revive Edgin’s wife.
Unfortunately, the party alerts the Harpers, and they capture and imprison Edgin and Hulga. After two years of incarceration, they both escape, and are surprised to learn that the new Lord of Neverwinter is Forge himself. When visiting him, they learn that he’s not only an illegitimate Lord, but he’s also turned Kira against her father. Escaping execution in Neverwinter, Edgin and Hulga reunite with Simon and recruit a new party member — a druid named Doric — in order to infiltrate the city, rescue Kira, and stop the darker evil behind all of this — and possibly score some loot along the way.
This story is a fairly simple one, with themes of friendship, family, and selflessness. The film doesn’t say anything extremely profound or introspective, but it’s a satisfying and conclusive message all the same. The worldbuilding is fairly airtight in structure, but has a lot of room for expansion. The soft magic system never crumbles or causes head-scratching moments, and is easy to understand. Characters show explicitly what they can do, and anything not shown is implied to be impossible, or at least out of their capabilities.
There is a moment or two where the payoff to a setup is almost annoyingly predictable. I won’t say exactly when, since said payoff happens towards the end of the film. Though, it does tie into the theme of family, and I’ll never bash a movie for making sense. Furthermore, there is a pivotal moment from the second to third act wherein an antagonist makes an odd choice that allows for the heroes’ survival. The choice is odd because I never would have guessed for that kind of choice to come from that character based on how the film characterizes them.
The tone of the film stays appropriate to its content most of the time. There’s good space between serious moments and comedy. There are a few areas in which the comedy does bleed a bit too far from its boundaries. But, for the most part, the film spaces jokes well, and a good number of them should land well with audiences.
Characters & Performances: Likeable Archetypes
Just like a real Dungeons and Dragons campaign, the standout aspect of this film is its characters. Much like the themes and story, these characters probably won’t be beloved icons for years to come. However, they’re all pretty consistent, and it’s mostly satisfying to watch their arcs unfold.
Probably the weakest main character is Doric. While her character’s pretty static throughout the movie, she has a good foundation. She’s a tiefling outcast taken in by druids, and a guardian of the forests outside of Neverwinter. Because of Forge’s deforestation efforts, she’s untrustworthy of humans, and she joins the party for the chance to stop the destruction of her home. She also once went on a date with Simon, but that’s only brought up a couple times.
Doric’s weakness as a character stems from her lack of satisfying payoffs. Without any spoilers, dialogue, rather than any meaningful actions, informs the conclusion of her arc. So, while she’s technically a resolved character, the execution was a bit unfulfilling. However, Sofia Lillis does a great job of portraying a reserved-yet-confident outlander.
Moving on to Simon Aumar, Simon is a half-elf sorcerer with extremely low self esteem. He feels like a disappointment to his family line of powerful wizards, and he has a love-interest in Doric. And… that’s about it for his character. What’s intriguing about him though is the progression of this arc throughout the story, wherein he copes or fights through his lack of confidence. Justice Smith also puts on an excellent performance as a sorcerer with more power than he lets himself know.
Hulga Kilgore is your typical loveable lug with a heart of gold and a delicate temper. She acts as a surrogate mother for Kira, but more of a sister to Edgin rather than a love-interest. She’s already lost two prior families; one from running away from her tribe with a forbidden love, and another when she split from her husband to continue thieving with Edgin.
Hulga’s a fairly static character as well, but she’s just so darn entertaining to watch. Not only is she a thrill when fighting, but her simple-mindedness leads to some natural comedy among her brainier allies. It also helps that Michelle Rodriguez plays her, bringing a great deal of charisma to the role.
Edgin Darvis himself is probably the strongest character — naturally, being the protagonist. With his backstory being half of the main plot, he gets a ton of development and even a bit of nuance towards the middle of the second act. He acts as the group’s leader, making plans that not even he may be enthusiastic about. By the end, he makes a choice that both his explained past and the events shown in the film inform well. On top of all that, the ever-fantastic Chris Pine plays him, bringing a quick wit and great expressions to the character.
As for side characters, they perform their roles well enough. Kira’s understandable anger towards her absent father is only intensified by Forge’s lies. Forge himself is a box-standard but entertaining, greedy, silver-tongued villain motivated by personal well-being, control, and treasure. These characters and more are all portrayed extremely well by their respective actors. Not once did the choice of actor or their performance put me off.
Cinematography & Sound: Great in Most Places, Awry in a Few Others
Watching this in an AMC IMAX theater, the sounds were great, but not exceptional. I can’t note any unique sound designs that stuck with me, but I also can’t complain about any sound I heard either. The soundtrack was pleasing to listen to throughout the movie, and always seemed to compliment each scene.
In terms of cinematography, Honor Among Thieves leaned heavily into smooth, panning camera movements for actions scenes. This is fantastic, as we get to see each character use their unique abilities to their full extent without the nauseating camera shake that became mainstream post-Borne Identity. It also showcased its fantastic choreography for the fights, which could provide endless entertainment for the more detail-oriented viewers to break down.
The CGI was acceptable in most places. The magic is a treat to behold, and most of the creatures of D&D mythos we see are well rendered. The film even utilizes practical effects for many of the humanoid races we see, such as dragonborn and aarakocra. On the notable flipside, the film has a couple scenes in which halflings, a small race of people in D&D, position themselves next to medium-sized races. These scenes dipped into the uncanny valley, to the point that my suspension of disbelief waned in those scenes. Luckily, they are few and far between.
Editing & Pacing: Smooth and Satisfactory
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves has a runtime of 134 minutes, yet feels a bit faster than that. It follows a simple three-act structure, and always has something happening onscreen. While its action scenes are bombastic and fluid, the film isn’t afraid to slow down, too. In short, this film has struck a solid pace that never leaves the viewer overwhelmed or bored.
As mentioned in the editing section, the film loves its wide, sweeping shots, and that’s definitely to its benefit. Cuts feel well timed and intentional, always showing as much as possible in a single take. The movie just feels smooth to watch.