Paramount’s Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves makes two things clear within its first five minutes: it understands its audience and D&D experience isn’t necessary. You’d be forgiven for assuming this was going to be another lore-bloated fantasy epic, something that either fails to appease fans of the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game or leans too far into it and confuses the “normies” — or is just plain awful like previous cinematic attempts. But while it’s not perfect, directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein have managed to serve up a balanced adaptation that’s both effortless to watch while remaining faithful to its grandiloquent source material.
Honor Among Thieves takes place in the Forgotten Realms, a diverse fantasy world that also serves as the campaign setting for official D&D modules — which means a lot of locations throughout the movie will be familiar to those who’ve played the game. In the cell of a frost-entombed prison, we’re introduced to the charming and overconfident bard, Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine), and Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez), a brutish yet motherly barbarian and Edgin’s best friend. The pair sets out to rescue Edgin’s daughter, Kira, from Forge Fitzwilliam, a former accomplice-turned-conman who has instilled himself as the villainous Lord of Neverwinter. Forge is played by Hugh Grant, who leans into his usual “bumbling Englishman” persona for the role, while Daisy Head provides some more serious villainy as the Red Wizard Sofina.
Edgin and Holga are later joined by a timorous half-elf sorcerer played by Justice Smith, a seriously jaded tiefling druid played by Sophia Lillis, and Regé-Jean Page, who leans all the way into our Bridgerton-fueled expectations as a beautiful, swaggering paladin. But where his Bridgerton character epitomized every romantic leading man, this guy is a walking parody of every epic fantasy hero to have graced the genre. Honor Among Thieves makes it very clear that it isn’t trying to be some byzantine fantasy epic. Beneath the layers of its magical, medieval-inspired setting, it’s just a relatively straightforward heist movie — assemble a lovable group of skilled individuals, break into a few vaults, and defeat the bad guys.
Thankfully, Honor Among Thieves also manages to be specifically D&D-flavored without being too dorky or cringey. It exhibits incredible self-awareness, navigating through recognizable tropes from the titular tabletop roleplaying game without being obtusely meta about the whole thing. In a real game, players are at the mercy of their dice: randomized numbers dictate if your action succeeds (casting spells, flirting with guards, etc.) or fails (falling into traps, offending guards with your terrible flirting). The film alludes to this through manufactured spontaneity — almost every interaction feels ad-libbed, as though spoken off the cuff following a dice roll. The performances of Pine and Grant are especially notable for injecting quick-witted humor into otherwise stale tropes. It feels refreshingly subversive.
Appeasing nerds shouldn’t be a box-ticking exercise, but Honor Among Thieves should at least be commended for the sheer number of D&D Easter eggs crammed into its 134-minute runtime. There are multiple dungeons, multiple dragons, multiple treasure hoards, and multiple buff women accompanied by a generous smattering of references to what feels like at least half of the game’s entire spell list and bestiary. Fans of the franchise won’t be left wanting, and most inclusions are incredibly faithful to the D&D sourcebooks (not counting the whole “druids can’t wild shape into an owlbear” debacle).
The CGI used to depict canonical D&D regions like Icewind Dale and the Underdark is decent enough, as is its application throughout the film’s various displays of magic and spellwork. But practical effects are where Honor Among Thieves will win over the really hardcore fantasy nerds. The more bestial races from the D&D universe are portrayed using actual monster suits or puppets, as if plucked right out of something like The Dark Crystal. It all feels like a homage to sword and sorcery movies of the 1980s, and you feel it in all the ornately detailed costumes, prosthetic makeup, and actual animatronics. And unlike too many Marvel films, it still feels grounded in reality, so the CGI enhances more than it detracts.
Honor Among Thieves has to appeal to both audiences: those who are familiar with D&D and those who aren’t. It clearly excels in the former, but while it does ultimately achieve the latter, it doesn’t completely avoid the pitfalls experienced by similarly ambitious lore-heavy IPs that attempted to break into cinema. (I’m looking at you, Warcraft.)
Honor Among Thieves’ storyline progresses at breakneck speed, refusing to waste precious minutes of pacing to provide background on the various locations, items, or characters in order to accommodate the endless deluge of D&D references. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy managed to patiently walk its viewers through J.R.R. Tolkien’s expansive lore — Honor Among Thieves offers no such courtesy. Stereotypically fantasy-sounding phrases like “Faerun,” “Gracklstugh,” and “Emerald Enclave” often whiff by during on-screen conversations, rarely repeated or providing insight into their significance.
You don’t actually need background on any of the references peppered throughout Honor Among Thieves to enjoy the movie. It’s still very clear what’s unfolding on-screen regardless of the jargon. But its dedication to appeasing the game’s nerdy fan base doesn’t excuse the other cinema sins that tarnish it. The storyline is incredibly predictable for a franchise that prides itself on creativity, and most of the characters feel underdeveloped because the film attempts to cover too much with the time it has.
This is especially true concerning its villains. Grant’s portrayal of Forge as “lord bad guy” is a lot of fun, but there are a lot of other villains in this — to the point that his character sometimes gets lost as increasingly sinister characters keep popping up to take up the mantle of the “real” Big Bad. There are simply too many malevolent cooks tampering with this fantasy-flavored soup.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is certainly let down by the scale of its own ambition in places, but I still had fun — more fun than I’ve had watching a fantasy movie in years, actually. It’s incredibly funny and overdelivers on the necessary ingredients to appease anyone who’s ever rolled a 20-sided die. You can even forgive the slightly chaotic pacing for accurately capturing how it feels to play through a real D&D campaign.
For those who don’t partake in the game, Honor Among Thieves is still perfectly enjoyable because it doesn’t take itself seriously. Yes, it’s flippantly humorous and self-aware, but it isn’t pretentious about it. If anything, Honor Among Thieves is unashamedly camp, vibing closer to the likes of Shrek and The Princess Bride than your typically hardcore action-adventure movie. It’s a reminder that the fantasy genre is still allowed to be goofy. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying stoic highbrow fantasy, of course, but watching Daley and Goldstein’s “Bardians of the Galaxy” ensemble bumble around with well-mannered zombies and obscenely pudgy dragons is a breath of fresh air.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves hits theaters on March 31st.