Dungeon and Dragons doesn’t like it’d be the hardest of IPs to transform into a movie, given the freedom of forming campaigns. There’s no rigid plot to follow from the games, nor do the rules have to be adhered to strictly. The real challenge with making a D&D movie lies in how to make this long-running tabletop fantasy palatable for audiences who may not be as familiar with the name-dropping of Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter. The good news is that Honor Among Thieves presents a fast and fun fantasy adventure that will entice even the most jaded blockbuster bingers.
As with the best fantastical films, this film doesn’t bog down the viewer with heaps of lore and droning monologues that begin with “Long ago.” It launches into the tale of the charming bard Edgin (Chris Pine) and his life as a thief. Despite his dangerous line of work, he’s a family man at heart, having a surprising work/life balance to be with his wife and kid. But when he crosses the wrong villain, Edgin finds himself in hard times, unable to protect the ones he loves.
Thankfully, he has a merry band of misfits to be by his side. He forms a sibling-style bond with the barbarian Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), having a sordid history that she can relate to the bard over drinks. The underdog paladin Simon (Justice Smith) has problems with his magic but can be there for his friends in crime when the heist is afoot. He’s also pretty adorable with his on/off crush for the tiefling Doric (Sophia Lillis) with her dead-pan delivery. They all come together to stop their stuff ex-partner Forge (Hugh Grant) and his political dealings with the sinister wizard Sofina (Daisy Head).
This is a film that spends less time trying to divulge its world and more time having fun with it. For example, when making a prison escape, Edgin and Holga decide to rely on the flight of a griffin by chucking him out a window. Many fantastical creatures are never overexplained or outstay their welcome. This includes a panther that can create holograms and a gelatinous cube that consumes flesh. Magic spells are weaved in such a way that is compelling for the adventure but also called out for not being the be-all-end-all of every quest. Having Simon bitterly explain how you can’t just magic away everything in this world is hilarious for his reaction and solid storytelling for grounding this fantasy.
The highest-rated strength of the picture lies in the characters and their flawless chemistry. Even outside D&D, the most crucial aspect of a story such as this is how well the ensemble plays off each other, and they always land critical smiles. Chris Pine has a natural ease for these cocky hero roles he can stroll into. Rodriguez has a charming bluntness in how she is gleefully upfront, not afraid to call their mission one of robbing the rich. Page has an enduring nature to his character and Lillis gets some great dead-pan moments. Of course, Grant devours his villain role with gusto, but special mention is deserved for the minor part of the powerful and literal wild mage Xenk (Regé-Jean Page).
At nearly 2.5 hours, Honor Among Thieves proceeds briskly with a heist involving deadly mazes, magical portals, and a spell of the undead. Too fast, in fact. While every character shines in some way, some of their arcs feel rushed onto the screen as they fight for time. While the pathos of Edgin fighting for his family is compelling, his companions all have similar issues that they kinda-sorta resolve quickly as the quest continues. Simon’s self-esteem issues are a fear he must face down, but it’s reduced to a moment of magical realization, much of it being through visions in his head that we don’t always witness. Doric’s problem with humans seems to magically change throughout the picture, where all she needs is a sword to wield and a human to save to be back on the side of cooperation.
Honor Among Thieves is everything you’d want from a fantasy adventure, plus a tubby dragon tumbling around a dungeon. With vibrant chemistry, dazzling sights, and just a genuine sensation of exciting thrills in fantasy land, watching this film revived some long-dormant college memories of my first D&D game, spirited with creativity and jovial with banter. Even if you’ve never played the game, this movie still has the charm to win over any newcomer, the same way audiences took to 2009’s Star Trek and 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. If audiences formed a love for a talking raccoon, it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch for them to feel for Doric and her ability to transform into an owl-bear hybrid monster.