Thursday, April 27, 2023

Review: Dungeons & Dragons - Honor Among Thieves

Dungeons & Dragons is a super fun game that I miss playing very much. If you don’t quite understand what D&D is, I will try to explain it briefly: it is a tabletop, paper and pen role playing game, of which all mainstream video game RPGs are at least partially derived form. The game is played as a group who create characters to individually play as based on classes/archetypes found in the rule book. One player is the “Dungeon Master” or “DM” who designs the world the game takes place in and usually plays the roles of everyone in that world who aren’t the players. The player characters inhabit said world and roleplay an adventure as dictated by the DM. Actions, particularly complex actions and combat actions, are determined by rolling dice, usually a twenty-sided die, which are further enhanced by statistics of the individual character performing the action base. Basically, if you roll high you are successful and if you roll too low you are not successful. Don’t roll a natural 1.

Honestly D&D likely requires its own article to explain the full details and nutty history, but for the purposes of this review note that it’s been popular since its inception in 1974 and over the decades has produced a large amount of world expanding material from novels (lots of novels) to video games to Saturday morning cartoons. By now there’s a lot of officially licensed material tied to the D&D IP, so it seemed like a movie would inevitable.

And it already happened in the year 2000. And it bombed big time. It still got a pair of straight-to-home media sequels that I’m not certain how or if they’re related, but I know that they were also not all that well received. Because of this most folks have not held up hopes for another go with a film adaptation. However, the brand is now owned by Hasbro, the creators of Transformers, and because they want all the money it was just a matter of time before they made another attempt.

Which brings us to today’s review, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves was directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley. The trailers had made this flick out to not only have a much lighter and comedic tone than past efforts but also made a point of making very obvious references to various aspects of the game (seeing an owlbear in the original trailer made me drop the drink I was holding when I first saw it). Still, an awesome trailer that promises good fun means absolutely nothing in this day and age (See: Suicide Squad) so we are still left with the question of whether or not this reboot is any good.

Full review after the jump.

That feeling when the party's plan has completely gone to shit...

The movie captures what it’s like to it’s like to play Dungeons & Dragons with your pals. This should be the biggest takeaway and be fairly obvious but seeing as in general these D&D adaptions have been more or less generic fantasy stories it was refreshing to see something a little different. And I don’t just mean that it had spells clearly ripped from the Core Book with creatures out of the Monster Manual, although it does, but rather it felt like a film version of a D&D campaign. That the cast were clearly characters with more or less proper classes, which was was great, but I loved that the “bunch of side quests to move the main campaign forward” aspect was front and center and the goofiness and comedy that played throughout felt familiar. Every game I’ve ever played in or run always involved someone doing something incredibly stupid that ruins the plan (ether due to bad dice rolls or just how they made their character’s personality) or eventually devolved into everyone basically trying to make each other laugh. This movie reminded me so much of those experiences and it felt like the creators likely had similar ones on the tabletop at some point.

Considering that Hasbro has had some of the worst adaptations of anything I’ve ever seen (Battleship and like 5 out 6 Transformers movies) I was expecting the worst.

The cast is quite good, for the most part. Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, and Justice Smith all are playing familiar character types (Pine is a cocky but charming leader, Rodriguez is a badass of few words, and Smith is a neurotic dork) but ones they’ve mastered in their respective careers and can do in their sleep so it works great. Plus, they all have great chemistry together. Special shoutout to Hugh Grant who continues to play fun and flamboyant morally dubious characters in this stage of his career (See Also: The Gentlemen) and also Regé-Jean Page, who I’m seeing for the first time in this movie and suddenly all the hooting and hollering about Bridgeton makes more sense to me.

I mean, I still won't watch Bridgerton, but I get it now

As I alluded to earlier, the movie is funny. I’m not the first reviewer to make this observation, but I agree with other reviewers that it uses the Guardians of the Galaxy formula to great effect. That said, that means there’s no reinvention of the wheel here either and there’s nothing in this film that you haven’t seen before. However, even if what we got wasn’t a revolutionary blend of action and comedy it was still a more than enjoyable example of it. It’s not all that deep but it is quite fun.

My biggest issue, maybe my only real complaint, is that Sophia Lillis’ Doric felt shortchanged in the character department. The other three main characters felt like they had a lot of time dedicated to their character arch or development or background, but Doric, despite being quite active in events, doesn’t really get any of that. The plot revolves around Edgin’s family and his former job, Holga has that stuff about her husband, and Simon spends a lot of time dealing with his self-confidence issues, but Doric's character is limited to, uh, not liking humans, I guess? And then she eventually likes them a little better? Sophia Lillis is, in my opinion, a star waiting to happen and she has this quiet charisma and every time I see her it serves her well, but whether it wasn’t right here or the creators didn’t have enough time to dive deeper into her baggage (of holding) compared to the others, or maybe someone needed to be the straight woman of the group, the end result is that Doric is dull and that is a crime in a movie like this.

Her backstory is crazy interesting; shame we barely touch on it

Also, compared to other big budget speculative fiction films on the market these days, I did feel this flick showed it’s seams a bit when it came to CGI, though when they used practical effects instead they looked quite cool.

This movie may not be the greatest masterpiece there's ever been, but it’s such an enjoyable romp that anyone who comes out of the theater disliking it is really a person I can’t understand. You don’t need to know anything about the source material to have a blast here (my wife certainly didn’t and she thought it was great). Add that it’s easily the best film adaptation of the game, this feels like a redemption story for the brand as well. I don’t know if they’ll make any more of these, but I will watch them if they do.

Michelle Rodriguez needs to star in more things

I give Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves 4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.


-Great cast

-Fun adventure that feels like D&D

-Genuinely funny


- Doric feels underdeveloped and thus Sophia Lillis feels like she’s being wasted

-Nothing hear you haven't seen before

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