The new movie is a crowd-pleaser sure to delight old fans and newcomers alike
I walked into the Cinemagic on Hawthorne prepared to hate Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Excited to hate it, in fact. As an avid fan of the game and longtime Dungeon Master for my high school friend group, D&D was a part of my childhood still near and dear to my heart. So when I heard that Hasbro had made the (foolish, I thought) decision to produce a movie from their precious IP, I knew I had to see it — doubts or no doubts. So I gathered my friends, many of them D&D players themselves, and made the trek into downtown on opening weekend. I thought I knew what I was getting into: a couple of hours of solidly B-movie content, followed by a rollicking good time making fun of the script writers and their inevitable blunders over dinner.
And then Chris Pine broke out of prison by pushing a giant bird-man named Jonathan out a window and hanging on for dear life on the way down, and I knew I was about to be proven wrong.
There’s a recipe to these things, you see. A difficult to describe mixture of three parts comedy, two parts high-flying action, and just a dash of audacity that defines that slippery genre known as the Action Comedy. When done carelessly — as it is most of the time — it can go rancid quickly. But when done perfectly, with just the right mixture of comedy and hope, treading a line so fine it’s hard to even see, it can be magical.
I would have accepted nothing less than magical for Dungeons and Dragons, and Honor Among Thieves delivered. The movie opens with best friends Edgin (Chris Pine) and Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) trapped in a maximum security prison somewhere in the inhospitable northern wastes. Their incarceration, Pine explains during a fourth-wall-breaking parole hearing, is a result of a heist gone wrong that left them to take the fall, their lovable crew of criminals scattered, and his beloved daughter Kyra an orphan. (Holga, meanwhile, quietly eats a potato. This will become important later.)
After Edgin and Holga stage a daring escape, they discover that they were betrayed by one of their own — the conman Forge (Hugh Grant) — who is now holding Edgin’s daughter hostage in “the most impenetrable fortress in the land.” To save her, Holga and Edgin will need to gather their old crew, alongside some new faces, and stage a daring heist into the heart of Castle Neverwinter to rescue Kyra, steal back their “ill-gotten booty,” and exact a little poetic justice on the villainous Forge while they’re at it. Let the games begin.
Honor Among Thieves is, in short, a classic heist movie — and all the better for it. While it’s not the direction I would have taken if asked to write “the D&D movie,” I’m surprised to find that, in retrospect, it was the perfect choice. After all, a heist has all the ingredients of a classic D&D adventure: a team of oddballs forced to work together, a tragic backstory, daring stunts, and a mad plan so fantastically audacious that you can’t help but laugh and clap along.
And what a team of oddballs they are. Pine’s character is perhaps the best developed — a former member of a Robin Hood like band of heroes known only as The Harpers, Edgin turns to crime after the tragic death of his wife Zia at the hands of his enemies leaves him an only father.
Meanwhile, Edgin’s chosen sister Holga finds solace in raising Kyra alongside him after being disowned by her own family for loving an outsider, and disowned by the outsider for her inability to move past her grief. At their side are Simon (Justice Smith) — an incompetent but sweet young sorcerer — and Simon’s crush Doric (Sophia Lillis) — an extraordinarily powerful shapeshifter and the all-around star of the team.
Between them, the four have an on-screen chemistry that undoubtedly makes the movie. Sure, their adventures are fun, and Hugh Grant’s cackling villainy is a pleasure to watch, but I came for a Dungeons and Dragons story, and I stayed for its heroes. For all their type-casting as action movie archetypes, they reminded me of my friends, of countless hours gathered around the dining room table rolling dice and proposing mad plans to steal the emperor’s airship or sneak into a banquet hall by stacking three Gnomes in a trenchcoat (my apologies to the Gnomes).
And perhaps that’s why, in the end, I found myself walking out of the theater loving Honor Among Thieves. It may not win any Oscars, but it has heart, and that’s all it needs.
In a scene near the end of the film, the team has almost escaped with their winnings when they see danger on the horizon behind them. They exchange a look, and then, without a word, spin the wheel and sail back into peril, because they are needed, and that’s what heroes do.
That’s the real power of games like Dungeons and Dragons — they allow people to be heroes, even those who can’t yet see it in themselves. Even better, they bring people together, and leave us with friends and found families we might never have expected. That’s what D&D did for me as a kid, and it’s what Honor Among Thieves does for its heroes: misfits and losers, rogues and criminals who nevertheless find each other, and might yet find heroism. I couldn’t have asked for more.