Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023) — A natural 18

“That is one pudgy dragon!”

Justin’s rating: I use my… additional notes!

Justin’s review: Do I have to say it? It’s about time that we got a good Dungeons & Dragons movie. I mean, this poor franchise has been through hell and back, suffering the moral condemnation of Tom Hanks, the overacting of Jeremy Irons, and the stigma of nerd culture. And while I rightly hesitate to call Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves a “great” movie, it certainly is good. And “good” is a win for this franchise.

Let’s meet our party of characters for this campaign, shall we? Our leader is Edgin (Chris Pine), a bard-turned-Harper-turned-thief. He heads up a ragtag group of sticky fingered rebels, starting with his right-hand woman, the barbarian Holga (Michelle Rodriguez). Then there’s the shapeshifting tiefling druid Doric (Sophia Lillis), insecure sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith), and overly noble paladin Xenk (Regé-Jean Page). It’s a rogue’s gallery with a heart of gold in each one.

They band together nominally for treasure but mostly to stop Forge (Hugh Grant!), a previous associate who hung them out to dry and set himself up as the new lord of the city of Neverwinter. Part of Forge’s rise to power comes from the assistance of the dreaded red wizards, especially Sofina (Daisy Head). Between Forge’s avarice and Sofina’s desire to raise a new undead army, the city is in peril if our hero squad doesn’t get its act together by Act Three.

This right here is the right approach to making a D&D movie that’s both pleasing to detail-obsessive fans and the general “What, is this another Lord of the Rings movie?” audience. The filmmakers clearly did their research into the tabletop game, giving us a world saturated in all of the particular details that dice-rolling adventurers well know. Hearing a movie mention Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate gave me delightful flashbacks to CRPG days of yore, particular spells are used in creative ways, and the bestiary opened its doors to include owlbears, gelatinous cubes, mimics, and displacer beasts.

But far more than being a parade of fanservice, Honor Among Thieves uses the setting to tell an engaging story. At the core of it is a broken family that’s struggling to be reborn. Edgin lost his wife to the red wizards and is looking to resurrect her while trying to retain the affections of his daughter. Said daughter also sees a mother-figure in Holga and is duped into coming under the care of Forge while Edgin is away. Honesty, ambition, and sacrifice all clash in the struggle to make a family whole again. That’s a pretty compelling setup.

And there’s a lot more here, as well. All of the party characters have their own arcs and memorable character quirks, from Holga’s breakup (with a halfling played by, who else, Bradley Cooper) to Simon’s struggle to gain confidence to Forge’s efforts to con the entire world. These all play out over a journey that begins and ends in Neverwinter but also includes a village under attack, the underworld (with a pudgy dragon), an ancient battlefield, secret bases, deep vaults, and not a few Plans A, B, C, and D.

While it’s saturated in a fantasy universe, Honor Among Thieves wisely realizes that CGI spells aren’t going to keep butts in seats or a plot embedded in memory. So there’s a greater emphasis on character interactions, humor (Chris Pine introduced knitting in his icy prison cell slayed me), and a pushback against tropes. I really liked these folks, even the bad guy (Grant gets a lot of chuckles). I applauded the thinking-on-their-feet nature of the crew, almost like we were watching the avatars of tabletop gamers trying to figure out how to win the day. And the ending is exceedingly well done, sticking the landing without some sort of generic fantasy army battle taking place.

People, we no longer have to wait for a good Dungeons & Dragons flick. What a relief to be able to type that.

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