Before this review gets underway, let this be a disclaimer. I have never once participated in a game of Dungeons & Dragons nor been in close proximity to a party undertaking an adventure orchestrated by a Dungeon Master. That said, pop culture’s leaps into a wider acceptability of nerd culture being more in tune, I understand the very basics of the actual tabletop game that is arguably considered the most popular out of them all. From what I have come to understand, a game of Dungeons & Dragons or D&D for short is left up to the creativity and imagination of the players in the party and the Dungeon Master calling the shots with the polyhedral dice progressing the stories in-game events.
An adventure can be either made up on the fly or one of the many pre-written adventures can be used as a starting point and followed through from beginning to end.
Having a plan seems like the safer option for the party of players however, the unpredictability makes for an eventful adventure to unfold. Throughout Honor Among Thieves, its planner character Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine), a bard, is constantly creating a plan and subsequent contingencies if plan A, B or C doesn’t work out. There’s a line that comes right before the climatic 3rd act action sequence that resonates and crosses over from a high fantasy tabletop game to film to real life. Plans may fail no matter how many get made but giving up is the true failure. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It’s that simple.
Honor Among Thieves follows the continency path. Written by co-directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley and Michael Gilio off a story conceived by Gilio and Chris McKay, the narrative mirrors that of various plans set in place with one failing, the next is standing by ready to be executed. This type of storytelling at least adds a shroud of mystery as to not feel stale or obvious by those who have played the popular tabletop game. This allows an unexpected journey to unfold organically instead of coming off preplanned, generic and scripted. Character motivations are given heft to them with interactions flowing naturally.
Along for the wild ride heist adventure with Edgin is a barbarian named Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), a sorcerer named Simon (Justice Smith), a Tiefling Druid named Doric (Sophia Lillis), and occasionally a paladin named Xenk (Regé-Jean Page). All of whom, with the rogue and villainous Forge (Hugh Grant) including Edgin are playable characters each party member can choose and craft abilities to be on their individual adventures.
It wouldn’t be a Dungeons & Dragons inspired film without its namesakes being heavily featured throughout the quest our heroes set off on. Out of the few dragons that make an appearance, the visuals powering these winged beasts will dazzle in its sharp designs, crisp color palettes and highly stylized locales for where they reside. No dragon is treated the same way nor given the same power structure, all standout on their own, offering different challenges for our heroes to overcome.
One valid concern going into a film of this caliber for those who have never experienced the tabletop game is the inclusivity of the deeply rooted lore and expansive mythology. Can someone brand new to this mythos jump right in and be caught up with the jargon used or will it all go right over your head. As someone who has no prior experience with the game, the writing / directing team craft their film to be easily consumed and understood by all, beginner or expert. The same can be said for any high fantasy like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. Having a base knowledge is good to have but not required for going into the film.
Getting the story off the ground, the basic premise is this, Forge, the Lord of Neverwinter has been guardian of Edgin’s estranged daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) while Edgin and Holga have been imprisoned for a separate heist gone wrong. To rescue Kira and pull off a heist of Forge’s riches, the party come up with a plan to sneak in during a communal event known as the Games. Working with Forge is a Red Wizard of Thay Sofina (Daisy Head) with her own devious plan that the party of heroes comes up with another plan to stop the destruction. A premise that isn’t difficult to follow yet boasts entertainment value for younger and older viewers.
If you understand one high fantasy concept, you can have a grasp on them all. While the mythology sure takes a bit to get a hold of, it’s the characters and their actor counterparts that steer the ship with Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley’s guidance behind them. For one, the chemistry between the core ensemble is built on a strong foundation with witty fast paced and humor heavy dialogue. Breaking up the humor, each character is given their own personal journey to discover about themselves, adding depth and dimension to the group.
For the limited screentime he has, Regé-Jean Page steals the spotlight with a charm that can’t be matched and charisma that becomes magnetically drawn to him with names like Michelle Rodriguez and Chris Pine also sharing the same screen. But really, it’s the quiet confidence of Justice Smith paired up with Sophia Lillis that becomes the showstopper. Also doing the most with limited screentime, Hugh Grant is delightfully devilish, playing like a 70’s inspired Roger Moore era Bond villain. A sense of theatrics and flare yet overly confident and underestimating his narrative opposition.
The tabletop game of D&D may not appeal to everyone but Honor Among Thieves has a universal appeal to it, using a mix of practical and CGI effects, spectacle scaled cinematography by Barry Peterson and story that honors the legacy of game designers Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. A basic premise and a surface level villain aside, Honor Among Thieves adds its own flavor of fantasy epic adapted for a different medium. Stylish, full of humor and familial themes, the ambitious undertaking is handled with care and the potential for a franchise is within a throw of the dice.
Screenplay By: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley & Michael Gilio
Story By: Chris McKay & Michael Gilio
Directed By: Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley
Music By: Lorne Balfe
Cinematography: Barry Peterson
Starring: Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Hugh Grant, Chloe Coleman, Daisy Head
Edited By: Dan Lebental
Release Date: March 31, 2023
Running Time: 2 Hours 14 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Based On: Dungeons & Dragons by Hasbro