Dungeons & Dragons has enjoyed a nice cultural renaissance over the last few years. From Critical Role to Stranger Things to The Adventure Zone, it’s something all the pop culture greats are capitalizing on. It was only a matter of time before it found its way to the big screen again.
D&D fans have been burned before by film interpretations of the RPG, but Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a bit different from its predecessors. It leans away from dramatic, epic fantasy for a more lighthearted tone—and it’s all the better for it. The new movie embraces the game for what it is: a fun way to tell a story with your friends.
One of the things that stand out most about Honor Among Thieves is the characters, and not just because they have a fabulous cast. (That said, seeing Chris Pine as a charismatic but eccentric singer in a fantasy world is something I’ve wanted since he played Cinderella’s Prince in Into the Woods. I’m glad Dungeons & Dragons brought him back to his true calling.)
No, what makes the characters so great is the way they stick to the usual D&D formula of “stereotype but.” For example, one of the longest running D&D gags is that a bard will romance any and all NPCs, and can flirt their way out of any situation. Chris Pine plays Edgin, a stereotypical bard, but he’s a family man who’s only goal is getting back to his daughter. The movie loses points for giving into the “motivated by my dead wife” trope, but that’s more typical of Hollywood than D&D.
The other members of the crew follow suit. Holga is a typical barbarian, but the love of her life is a halfling homemaker. Simon is a powerful sorcerer, but he suffers from crippling insecurity. Doric is a deeply emotional druid, but far more prone to brute violence than you’d expect. Xenk is a widely-known paladin, but…okay, I don’t have one here, I just really wanted to see more of Regé-Jean Page.
All these aspects of the characters make them seem modern and relatable, rather than just high-fantasy archetypes.
While the characters are more than solid, the plot feels a bit like a starter campaign. It’s predictable and symmetrical, where almost every throwaway detail comes back into play as an asset or obstacle later in the film. Some Hollywood Blockbusters could really benefit from writing this neat. However, “neat” is not something that usually comes to play in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
The story in Honor Among Thieves didn’t hold any surprises after the first act. Once the stage was set, the film played out exactly as you might expect with very limited guesswork. In D&D terms, it’s like the players made all the choices the DM expected them to make and everything went according to plan. Which like, never happens. Personally, I think having an underwhelming final battle would have been hilarious—the equivalent of one player rolling a Nat 20 and scrapping the fight, or the players choosing to romance their way out of a situation rather than battling.
Even if the plot feels a little too perfect, Honor Among Thieves succeeds at the most important thing: conveying the spirit of the game. The way the characters interact, the dialogue, the conflict—all of it showcases the upbeat, slightly chaotic energy of playing a TTRPG with your close friends. You know how to riff off each other and lean into the joke. You can improvise a solution just as fast as you can walk into a trap. You play off each other’s strengths and learn to work as a team.
And there are plenty of D&D gags that make an appearance in the film. One scene has dice scattered amongst the golden coins in the treasure vault. Another has unexpected cameos from the Critical Role series. However, maybe my favorite scene plays off the idea of side stepping a DM’s puzzle. Sure, you could pay attention to these incredibly detailed instructions that are designed to strengthen your skills and prepare you for what lies ahead. Or you could find a way easier way to do it. And really, isn’t that what Dungeons & Dragons is all about?
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves rolls into theaters next Friday, March 31st.