Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023) – Roll the Dice, Pay the Price

I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons twice in my life; the first time I was about 9 years old and my only exposure to it was through pop culture, my friend had just gotten a copy so we decided to play… just the two of us with no DM or understanding of what the game was. We had no clue how it was played properly so we just rolled the dice and calculated if we could beat the monsters (we gave up after about 5 minutes). The second time was at University where me and my flatmates got the starter box and tried a campaign, I was the DM, the math became confusing, the players quickly started suggesting things I hadn’t planned for, and I ended up randomly deciding if they won or lost battles. Suffice to say I know nothing about Dungeons and Dragons.

But despite the cringe-inducing trailer, I figured I’d give Honor Among Thieves a go because it was a Saturday morning and I had nothing better to do. And to my surprise… I actually enjoyed the film. I feel like the fantasy genre has been severely lacking since the Lord of the Ring trilogy, culture definitely staked its chips firmly into sci-fi, and outside of literature, has moved away from the golden age of fantasy. But I don’t want to seem like I’m underestimating fantasy, because I know that, within its niche, its fans are relentlessly passionate and one only has to look towards D&D or Magic: The Gathering to see in this practice, without even mentioning Brandon Sanderson and his legion of fans. While we definitely saw the beginnings of a renaissance in the television sphere thanks to the likes of Game of Thrones and its prequel House of the Dragon, we finally have, for the first time in years, a big blockbuster fantasy film, and not only that but an “original” one too.

But let’s talk about the movie itself: it’s a heist film. The thing about heist films is they’re very easy to pull off, there’s always an innate and tangible goal, and the plot moves itself along in the direction of the treasure. What separates a regular paint-by-numbers heist film with a good heist film is how we see the characters grow and develop as the heist progresses (and what separates a good heist film with a great heist film is Michael Mann or Steven Soderbergh). Now in Honor Among Thieves, its setting is perfect for this kind of character arc, one of the main selling points of the tabletop game is getting experience points, leveling up, and reacting to the events orchestrated by the DM. In terms of character arcs, the film does this really well; especially Chris Pine’s Edgin. It’s arguably the only real arc we get, you could argue the same for Justice Smith’s Simon (which I’ll get to shortly), but it has a real charm to it that feels emotionally resonant and satisfying. The other type of character growth is of course, leveling up and getting stronger. In this regard the film falls flat when paying reverence to its origins, with the aforementioned Simon character being the only one that has any real growth when it comes to their powers. Everyone else is as powerful at the start of the film as they are at the end, you can argue they learn to fight together but it still would have been more thematically appropriate if the other members of the troop also gained a powerup or strengthened their abilities in order to beat the “big bad” at the climax of the film. Especially for a film based on a franchise where that is a cornerstone of the game itself.

The film is loaded with the Whedonesque humour that plagues modern cinema, but I’d be lying if there weren’t moments that had me chuckling (the opening scene with Jonathan really got me I can’t lie). But what sets Honor Among Thieves apart from its blockbuster contemporaries (or most of them at least) is how refreshing it is to see good CGI that isn’t plagued but shadowy, poorly lit action scenes. While they’re nothing when compared to Avatar: Way of the Water or (to my chagrin) the flight scenes in Top Gun: Maverick, the varied settings and textured lighting, that admittedly should be a given for any film of this budget, really make this stand out in the swarm of voiceless studio driven movies. While this doesn’t sound like much of a compliment, which truth be told it isn’t, we have to accept that ignoring the outliers the general audience is being spoon-fed blandness, but at least Honor Among Thieves tries to make itself stand out from the other bland commercial products. There will always be those who won’t watch or don’t like films like this because when you boil them down there is no real difference between the MCU, DCEU or Honor Among Thieves, but I can tell you easily which I’d rather watch to pass two hours with and it’s the one that has clearly tried the hardest to look decent.

Overall, I can’t tell you that Honor Among Thieves breaks the mold or redefines what it means to be a big-budget blockbuster because frankly it doesn’t. It follows the same template you will see in most films of the same ilk, it doesn’t subvert or surprise, it doesn’t offer any textual substance, but within its self-imposed confines, it manages to be entertaining. Some will value this aspect, some won’t, I find myself straddling the line between the two. I enjoyed the film, I’d happily watch it again, but it’ll never stick out in my mind as a “great movie.” It’ll probably spawn a handful of sequels before fading into obscurity, but if you’re looking for a fun, light-hearted fantasy film that is so inoffensive you can watch it with anybody at any time, you can at least take away from it some fun action scenes, decent to passable performances and a few memorable moments that will make you chuckle.


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