By Matthew Moorcroft
- Directed by Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley
- Starring Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Rege-Jean Page, Hugh Grant
D&D is in such a strange position in pop culture at the moment. Even beyond it’s current controversies involving Hasbro and their treatment of third party OGL, the franchise at large is sitting at the verge of mainstream recognition and popularity but just isn’t quite there yet. With the success of Critical Roll (and likewise The Legend of Vox Machina) and the continued influence it has had on RPGs in gaming, along with several high profile actors and filmmakers having come out as D&D fans themselves, the time is actually pretty ripe for Dungeons & Dragons to get yet another attempt at the big screen.
Honor Among Thieves, which echews the 2000s film original setting for the more lore friendly, fan recognizable Forgotten Realms setting that makes up the majority of games, is simply a delight. Even divorced from it’s IP based existence, it’s a fun, entertaining romp that harkens back to the crowd pleasing blockbusters of old. There isn’t a second here that feels like the directors, writers, and the entire cast aren’t having a blast of a time making it, and that enthusiasm rubs off on the screen and into the audience.
It’s a simple story. A heist goes wrong, our group needs to get back together to stop an evil wizard, and there are personal stakes involved. That being said, that’s really all you need, as Honor Among Thieves opts to capture the feeling of a D&D campaign with a group of close friends first and foremost. The story is mostly only a vehicle for riffing, adventure, treasure hunting, creature killing, and having a good time, and all of that is here in spades. For those in the know about D&D, they will likely relate to at least a single character here as “that player they know”, but even if you aren’t there is still a lot to love here from an emotional perspective. After all, this is still a movie with characters and a story to tell, and it manages to wring genuine pathos out of it’s many scenarios and storylines.
Directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, who directed the impossibly great Game Night, bring the same level of polish to this film as they did there, managing to imbue the otherwise standard fantasy flick with flair, style, and genuine filmmaking prowess. This is shockingly handsomely made and shot, with lots of impressive camera tricks, one takes, and even a split diopter shot that’s really impressive to look at. In an era where studio big budget filmmaking seems to be getting lazier, it’s nice to see directors like Goldstein and Daley clearly giving it their all and having a knack for this kind of effects heavy affair. The reliance on practical effects is much appreciated as well, allowing the blending of CGI and location work to seamlessly blend into each other in a way that feels naturalistic. This also extends to their action work, which is some of the better fantasy stuff we’ve seen in quite awhile. The magic here is inspired as hell, feeling unique and making sure it feels authentic to D&D’s core mechanics while also never losing sight of it’s filmic nature.
The thing that gets me the most about this though is how much it ends up actually moving you by the end. The emotional moments do actually work, and the crux of the film ultimately being a father/daughter story lends it an air of credibility that allows for both Pine and Rodriguez in particular to flex their acting muscles. Pine in particular is excellent here, proving just how charismatic of a movie star he actually is, and his amazing chemistry with the rest of the ensemble really allows for the film to shine through it’s comedic moments. Justice Smith and Sophia Lillis are a little underused (particularly Lillis) but both have their strong moments, and Hugh Grant’s scenery chewing is a highlight, particularly in the third act when his character goes full villainous. But it’s actually Rege-Jean Page who might steal the show, playing a no-nonsense but well meaning paladin whose deadpan humor contrasts well with the main cast’s eccentric personalities.
I don’t know if Honor Among Thieves breaks the mold, but it’s certainly far better then it has any right to be considering it’s prior attempts and the general feeling prior to it’s release. It’s the kind of crowd pleasing studio blockbuster we should have more of in this day and age, and that alone is worth praising highly. A lovely, charming film with tons of heart and laughs along the way – what more could you ask for?