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Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Review

Some warning: the first three rows reading this review may get some nerd on them. I normally hate doing this sort of thing, talking about how much a property means to me – all those personal anecdotes when a Star Wars or a comic book movie comes out and how much the source material was a part of the reviewer’s childhood are just as much a chore for me to read as they likely are for you. But sometimes the context is needed, especially when writing about something as deeply nerdy (there’s that word again) as Dungeons and Dragons.

Granted, it’s not nearly as esoteric as it once was. Dungeons and Dragons is a billion-dollar property now, with book sales, figurines, toys, games, old 1980s Saturday cartoons, and movies. But when I was into it, back in the early 1980s, this wasn’t the universally loved property it was today. Carrying a D&D book down the school halls was a good way of getting laughed at, or even given the infamous Wedgie or Wet Willie.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Review

Those of us that played loved playing it, but you just didn’t wear your fandom on your sleeve the way people do today. Back then, our love for this stuff was decidedly not mainstream. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson tapped into something that is as old as sitting around the campfire, spinning yarns and adventures – that joy of shared storytelling, of creating a world out of a few dice, our imaginations, pencil, paper, and of course, the nerd food staples of Cheetos and Mountain Dew (or in my case, Dr. Pepper).

Now, you have famous people like Vin Diesel, Stephen Colbert, Felicia Day, and Joe Manganiello who play all the time, and have brought respect and even stature to it (I hear Manganiello’s home set-up is legendary). Dungeons and Dragons is legit now, and I intend no gatekeeping in saying that it wasn’t always that way.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Review

Co-director of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves and Freaks and Geeks star, John Francis Daley, knows well how the love of this game works. Probably my single favorite episode of Freaks and Geeks has the kids playing D&D with James Franco’s disaffected character and by the end of the episode he’s having as much of a blast as the others are. Shows like Community and even films like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial have D&D in their D&DNA.

Now, Daley and his co-director Jonathan Goldstein have made a film that embraces that feeling of playing the game, not so beholden to the lore so much as it is loyal to the characters and the players and crafting a story from thin air. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves feels spontaneous and joyful, like a great Saturday night sitting with friends, trying to figure out ways to frustrate the Dungeon Master, who secretly is laughing right along with them. Let me tell you, the basis of quite a few friendships is wrapped around playing D&D in my youth, and Honor Among Thieves captures that camaraderie and that spirit.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Review

What’s wonderful about Honor Among Thieves is that if you’re a newbie to the game, none of this matters because by itself it’s a riveting action-adventure comedy that works without the deep dives into the world and the lore. Rather than spending time setting the tone, the film throws you right into this fully-functioning world, trusting the audience to keep up. I love when a film does that — so many movies become chores because everything needs to be explained, when those filmmakers forget the one of the primary rules of cinema –- it’s much more important to show than to tell.

But if you’ve loved this stuff for the past 40 or more years, you are in for a treat. I never, in my wildest dreams, sitting in my school hallway nose deep in a campaign book, expected to see a Forgotten Realms movie. It’s staggering to me just how deep the movie goes into all of that backstory and history and yet none of that stops the story at all.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Review

In fact, the backstories become something of a comedic gag – every time a character stops to talk about their past, the movie does a sidestep that reminded me so hard of playing the game, when we would create characters and have these complicated histories to them (all before even playing the game itself).

This is what happens when you get filmmakers who treat their source property with respect but also know why we love the source as much as we do and also know how to play in the sandbox and keep the story fresh and moving, and you get a quality film at the end of it. Who knew?! Fans need not worry though, Honor Among Thieves has so many Easter Eggs that you could miss them the first time around (I saw it twice before writing this review and found lots more good game lore the second time around).

None of this would work if the actors weren’t willing to take the ride with us. It would just be another checklist movie, making sure that each plot point was touched upon and telegraphed from space. But all of the performances feel natural and loose; everyone knows what kind of movie they are making, and they throw pretension out the window. For people who take D&D far too seriously and forget that this is supposed to be fun (we’ve all played with them at some point – they suck all the energy out of the game), they may not be in for a good time.

The rest of us though? For longtime players, we’ll recognize the riffing and the ribbing, the shared laughter, and the jokes. For those not familiar with the game, Honor Among Thieves is very similar to the Guardians of the Galaxy movies in tone – it’s light, but knows how to shift and get serious.

For those familiar with the game, each character is a recognizable archetype, but the actors bring enough nuance to their performances that the characters rise off their character sheets. Chris Pine plays Edgin, a bard and former Harper who risks his life and limb to try to bring his family back together again. Michelle Rodriguez is Holga, a barbarian who left her tribe for love, but now finds herself without her love or her tribe.

Justice Smith is the half-elf Simon, who makes a better thief than a sorcerer, and whose lack of confidence is the source of all his troubles. Sophia Lillis‘s Doric is a Tiefling Druid, who fights injustice using her Wildshape abilities and who is suspicious of most humans.

Hugh Grant‘s Forge is ostensibly the villain of the film, a charming con man who allies himself with dark forces to make himself wealthy while caring for Edgin’s daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman). Regé-Jean Page practically steals the movie from everyone as Xenk, a noble paladin who is incapable of small talk or duplicity and provides just as much humor as he does action.

I can imagine the filmmakers creating these characters much like players do, just rolling the dice and seeing what hits and what misses. I also love how the story bends to the characters and not vice versa. The humor and the friendship of the characters feels genuine and strong, and even the villains aren’t simply evil, but have proper motivations for their deeds.

There’s a solid structure underneath, even as the movie feels loose and improvised. It’s almost as if we’re in a D&D module, which lays out everything on the page but makes room for the players to have fun inside the strict outlines. The world of Faerun is well represented here, and I love the rules of magic and how they are displayed onscreen. There are some things in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves I’ve waited my entire life to see – spells being cast, and lands explored like the Underdark, and Neverwinter, and seeing a paladin in battle.

I realize that this movie’s not going to hit the same for everyone like it did for me. Again, I grew up with this stuff. I read D&D books, played every edition, explored every castle and cave. I’m familiar with this world full of displacer beasts, gelatinous cubes, intellect devourers, obese dragons, Red Wizards of Thay, and the magic of it all. I imagine that this is what it feels like for a Marvel or DC fan when some beloved C-list character shows up in one of the movies.

A film like Honor Among Thieves has me asking the questions – will we ever get a Krynn film? A Drizzt Do’Urden movie? Will we ever see the evil Lolth, the noble Sturm Brightblade, or the wicked vampire Strahd Von Zarovich? It helps that shows like Stranger Things have brought Dungeons and Dragons into the mainstream, but these are vast universes that have been created over the years, and it would be thrilling to see them on a giant movie screen. See, I told you it was going to get nerdy in here.

A movie like Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is something of a miracle – it pleases longtime fans of the game as well as people looking for an entertaining Saturday matinee, cheering heroes and thrilling at the monsters. I got very emotional, watching this with my daughter, who also plays the game, and talking afterwards about these worlds and what they mean to us. I bonded quite strongly with her over this, and if that makes me biased towards the movie, so be it. Some things are more important than critical detachment.

As I took joy in seeing these worlds on screen, remembering the days of playing with friends and family, of those shared experiences with them, of reading in my room the latest book, module, or guide, I got hit with such a wave of nostalgia that was even stronger for me than when I saw The Force Awakens. Everybody loves Star Wars. But Dungeons and Dragons, back in my youth, was certainly not as beloved as it is now. To see my joys shared on screen felt incredibly validating for me. It probably won’t for you, at least not on that level, but at least you know where I’m coming from.

But if you’ve ever in your life slung a 20-sided die, spent hours debating alignment or the range of a fireball spell, let out a sigh of relief when you made a saving throw, rolled a natural 20, know what THAC0 means – you must see this movie.

I realize that for people who have never played the game before, this review is probably not very helpful. If you’re one of those, I imagine you’ll find something to enjoy in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves – it’s a well-made, funny, entertaining ride. But if you’ve played, and spent many a late night with friends, sitting around the table, creating worlds together – this movie feels like validation. It feels like home. “Your party meets in a tavern…” Let the adventure begin.


Paramount Pictures will release Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves in theaters on March 31, 2023. The film is rated PG-13 for fantasy action/violence and some language.