‘Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves’ Has Me Confused

The latest in a string of failed attempts to adapt the iconic game on the big screen is fine, I guess




The Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) game that we know today is a far cry from Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s original 1974 cult classic tabletop roleplaying game which led Christian activist Patricia Pulling to form Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (abbreviated as BADD), denouncing the game as Satanic and blaming it for youth suicide rates. Today, the game has an estimated 13.7 million players, and its popularity is only growing.

Given the game’s enduring popularity and the fact that the last film adaptation, “Dungeons & Dragons 3: The Book of Vile Darkness,” was released direct-to-DVD in 2012, it should come as no surprise that “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” finally received the high-budget blockbuster treatment. The film, which opened in theaters on March 31, has an enormous $151 million budget and features an ensemble cast made up of Chris Pine and Hugh Grant, among others. What is a surprise, though, is that it works — kind of.

The film follows five central characters — Edgin Darvis (Pine), Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez), Simon Aumar (Justice Smith), Xenk Yendar (Regé-Jean Page) and Doric (Sophia Lillis) — as they attempt to expose their former friend Forge Fitzwilliam (Grant) for working with a villainous Red Wizard named Sofina (Daisy Head) in order to embezzle money and take over the city of Neverwinter. Oh, and Forge has also manipulated Edgin’s daughter, Kira (Chloe Coleman), into thinking her father abandoned her. 

It sounds complicated, but to simplify the plot, the film follows all of the tropes of an action-adventure fantasy film, while throwing in enough lore to appeal to D&D diehards. Each character falls into a different class from the game: Edgin is a bard, Holga is a barbarian, Simon is a sorcerer, Xenk is a paladin, Doric is a tiefling druid, and Forge is a rogue. With each class comes a certain set of skills —  which the filmmakers employ with glee. During multiple critical sequences, Doric uses her tiefling abilities — she can shapeshift into various animal forms — to travel between various spaces undetected, eavesdropping on conversations and gathering information for her allies. 

While these whimsical moments contribute to making the film feel unmistakably D&D, other aspects feel generic to the modern blockbuster. Corny, “self-aware” jokes abound throughout the film, with hit-or-miss comedic success. The cast’s charisma largely manages to keep the film afloat during these cringeworthy moments, and, occasionally, there are genuinely funny moments, but the humor is on the whole unsuccessful, detracting from the more compelling story and character dynamics. 

The film is a pretty straightforward fantasy adventure film — so why did I leave feeling confused? I enjoyed the experience watching it! Shouldn’t that make it good? Am I less of a “Serious Cinephile” if I enjoy a silly, fun, simple movie? Or, am I right to ask more of a movie than a simplistic notion of “fun”?

The magic of D&D is its customizability — no two tables play the same game. In “Honor Among Thieves,” though, directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein have made a completely generic, totally inoffensive, universally appealing blockbuster. There’s nothing of substance to criticize because there’s nothing of substance at all. Everything is boilerplate, from the character development to the visuals to the story itself, and the film plays out exactly as one would expect. Thematically, it comes down to … family is important. (And not even found-family! These two characters are blood-related!)

To reiterate, “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is by no means a “bad movie.” In fact, I think most people would find it enjoyable to watch. It features charismatic performances — even an unexpected cameo from a Hollywood heartthrob — and a relatively entertaining story. But for a film with a $150 million budget, a cast filled with actors I love, and a source material with infinite potential, I would’ve liked to see a bit more ingenuity. D&D rewards creativity — I wish the film had done the same.