It is not really a secret that I’ve been skeptical of the Dungeons and Dragons movie for quite a while now. Both when the movie had wrapped filming and when we got our first good look at it with the first trailer I expressed a general doubt and uncertainty about how this project would turn out. Now it has finally released, and we can see how it has turned out. Do I still feel the same way about it as before, or did D&D: Honor Among Thieves catch me by surprise?
The trajectory towards D&D: Honor Among Thieves
Sadly, I have to say that most of my worries about the D&D movie were not taken away while watching it. To briefly recap what I’ve talked about before: my biggest fear going into this film was that it would be a story set in the world of Dungeons and Dragons, instead of a (potentially more) meta representation of what it is like to actually play the TTRPG.
And look, I get it. A movie where you switch between the real world and such an expansive realm of fantasy is probably a tough sell. There are ways to make it work however (my friend put forward a Jumanji-like scenario which I believe would work very well), but alas. I still feel like going a bit more meta would make the movie feel more unique in multiple ways, especially the humour (genuinely hoped for a character death, only for them to be replaced by a new character, played by the same actor). Again, it’s understandable. More so when you think about the plans where Honor Among Thieves is the start of a new Cinematic Universe (though that would also be so much more unique! Do I seem bitter? I am, a little).
Rolling for concentration
With that out of the way, it’s about time to get focus back to where it matters: the final product. Because despite what you might be inclined to believe after my previous ramble, I really enjoyed my time with D&D: Honor Among Thieves.
Probably my favourite aspect about the movie is how clearly the passion of its creators shines through. Despite not really showing the game of Dungeons and Dragons as much, it showcases its world, creatures and to some extent its mechanics perfectly. The movie was like a field-trip through my D&D sourcebooks, with visualizations of so many spells, ranging from ‘Misty Step’ to ‘Blur’, but also creatures like Intellect Devourers and of course the Owlbear, even Axe Beaks? Seeing species like the Aarakocra, Dragonborn and even a Gith (among more) around was also incredible, though it made me wish that Doric (the party’s Tiefling Druid, played by Sophia Lillis) also looked more unique, so to say.
The environments generally look amazing as well. Seeing Neverwinter was simply really cool and I loved the Underdark so much, I kind of wish we spent more time there. Doric’s little community up in a bunch of trees, and the prison really added to the magical feeling this on-screen version of Fâerun conveys. Not every background or establishing shot sells itself quite as well as others due to poor CGI, but considering that’s probably due to more of the budget going into the amazing practical effects, costumes and sets instead, that doesn’t particularly bother me. Oh, and I just want to mention that the music in Honor Among Thieves is quite good as well.
With that, the D&D movie is also very well-directed. There are a number of interesting shots that also incorporate the spells and abilities the characters use brilliantly. The engaging shots are present throughout, but really becomes present during Honor Among Thieves‘ more action-packed sequences. There’s a particular one (again) involving Doric, who as a druid can use Wild Shape to transform into different animals, which makes for a really fun and creative section. But fight-scenes as well manage to convey the abilities of the characters very well. From incorporating spells to showing the power a Barbarian holds.
If Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hobbit multiclassed
Alongside the competence in all of those departments, the story and characters are what’s supposed to tie it all together. Honor Among Thieves‘ moves steadily like a train, once in a while taking the time to pick up a new character, but upon entering the train they have to introduce themselves, their backstory and motivations first. In that regard it’s kind of like an actual game of Dungeons and Dragons, so hopefully you don’t mind these interruptions. I didn’t really myself, though some exposition-dumps could break the pace of the ride a bit too much at times.
The characters themselves were quite fun though. Edgin (Chris Pine) kind of felt more like a rogue than a bard most of the time (and doesn’t cast a single spell I think), but he has a compelling enough arc. Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) has a cute scene at one point, but kind of becomes the standard ‘muscle’ character afterwards. The sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith) was fun as well, with his insecurities about his abilities being a big part of his story (and functioning as a kind of self-aware wink at how somehow powers tend to manifest at the exact moment they’re needed).
Doric definitely had some of the best sequences in the movie due to her abilities, but as a character fell pretty flat and without much growth occurring. Maybe she’ll get expanded on more in the future. Hugh Grant simply shines as the con-man Forge Fitzwilliam, Lord of Neverwinter and along with Pine and Regé Jean-Paul (a tough and no-nonsense Paladin, who fit in brilliantly among the other, more goofy characters) they bring in my favourite performances.
The humour might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It can be a little MCU-ish at times, but there were enough moments that got a good chuckle out of me. There’s a functioning blend of jokes and serious moments, which will probably seem appropriate if you’ve ever played Dungeons and Dragons (unless you prefer yourself a more serious campaign). The story really isn’t anything groundbreaking or all too special, but the ‘group-of-misfits-has-to-save-the-world’-trope does its job well enough in allowing a bit of drama to push through. It’s not anything deep, but it works.
“To wrap up today’s session…”
All in all, despite my personal grievances with the way Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves turned out it’s nevertheless a really fun time. Its usage of practical effects makes the moments where the CGI looks off perfectly tolerable. The direction was very solid and gave us some fun and exciting action-sequences. Some characters are more fleshed out than others, but their performances are all solid as it seems everyone is having fun. The story isn’t particularly groundbreaking, but if you’re looking for a fun fantasy-comedy movie, I don’t think you can go wrong with this. D&D fans will probably enjoy the many references and nods to the TTRPG this movie brings, as well. Ultimately it’s a project that was clearly created with passion.
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