From 2000 to 2012, Wizards of the Coast released three Dungeons & Dragons movies that were, frankly, horrifically bad. So, WotC has to give me a break for expecting “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” to be just as bad, as capturing the spontaneity and absurdity that D&D can exhibit is rather hard to put on the silver screen.
They’ll also need to forgive my shock at just how good the movie was. Between the legitimately good and entertaining action of the movie, it captured some of the details of D&D mechanics that are difficult to show on screen. Here’s some of the things they did really well:
They got the stereotypical D&D story right
Aside from all the adventurers meeting in a tavern where a shadowy figure offers them a fortune to go on a quest, “Honor Among Thieves” nails the way most beginner D&D campaigns start. Having Edgin (Chris Pine) and Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) begin in prison after a heist gone wrong is classic D&D and it fits perfectly in the D&D canon that the bard and the barbarian are best friends who get in trouble.
And like most hero’s journey stories, the team fails on multiple occasions and has to find interesting ways out of sticky situations with tentacles and mazes. Still, despite the plot armor that is evident in movies like this, it was always interesting to see just how the characters would get out of those situations.
And no D&D story would be complete without the adventuring party being stymied by stupid things like a magic mirror falling on its face, a sorcerer being unable to attune to his magic items or accidentally setting off a trap and being forced to find a new way through.
They got the D&D details right
D&D mechanics are hard to visualize, but “Honor Among Thieves” did a really good job, particularly in how they handled very specific class-based details, like focusing on the familial and inherited importance for the sorcerer class. In an intuitive way, they show off the way that Simon (Justice Smith) deals with his family history and its importance in his magic.
Cartoons (like Amazon Prime’s “The Legend of Vox Machina”) are able to show these mechanics well, but “Honor Among Thieves” did an incredible job showcasing one of the more interesting spells in D&D: Bigby’s Hand. In the battle at the end of the movie, Simon and the Red Wizard (great inclusion of a classic D&D villain) Sofina, both cast Bigby’s Hand and their spells fight it out. Not only was it a novel way to use the spell, they portrayed it quite well.
It was also nice to see, without saying it, the incorporation of the barbarian class’s proficiency with improvised weapons, as Holga, in the final half of the movie, uses everything from weapons lying around in an armory to a potato in the fight against evil.
The villains were evil and so, so good
If you didn’t already know that Hugh Grant was good at playing smarmy bad guys, let this movie be your notice. His Forge Fitzwilliam the con-man turned—well, con-man/ruler of the realm—is so bad, it’s good. He was also the perfect villain for a beginner’s D&D party. He’s arrogant, dumb and most importantly, just the face of the operation.
Sofina (Daisy Head) is a Red Wizard and a bad, bad woman. Head’s performance is convincing and exemplary of the soulless wizard that is bad for the sake of being bad that defines many of the basic villains in Dungeons and Dragons. If they return to this franchise, I hope they go with a more complex villain, but Sofina fit perfectly in the basic campaign feel of this movie.
“Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” was great. It hit all the plot points you want in an adventure movie and encapsulated all the things to love about a beginner D&D campaign. If you know D&D, go see this movie to see a great depiction of D&D. But even if you don’t, you should go see this movie just because it’s good.