“Now I’m in a pickle because you’re my friends and I don’t want to watch you die, which is why I’m going to leave the room.”
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a 2023 Paramount Pictures production directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, based on a screenplay they wrote with Michael Gilio adapted from a story by Gilio and Chris McKay. Hugh Grant, Michelle Rodriguez, and Chris Pine lead a cast also starring Daisy Head, Regé -Jean Page, Chloe Coleman, Georgia Landers, Justice Smith, and Sophia Lillis.
Honor Among Thieves takes place in the Forgotten Realms, one of the numerous prepared settings available for purchase by players of the tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. Inspired by the works and worlds of JRR Tolkien, Ron E. Howard, Fritz Lieber, Michael Moorcock, T. H White, Roger Zelazny, and several other authors as well as the myths and legends of many different cultures, Dungeons & Dragons was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974. D&D was originally published by Tactical Studies Rules, Inc (TSR) and now by Wizards of the Coast, which is owned by Hasbro. The interactive storytelling concepts, social camaraderie, problem-solving techniques and the sheer entertainment value gained in just playing pretend with your friends proved to be very popular and sales of Dungeons & Dragons took off. As D&D evolved, its success bred countless imitators in the fantasy milieu as well as every other genre under the sun, leading to the explosion of many types of classic, traditional pencil-and-paper RPGs and the myriad video game versions that followed and are virtually everywhere today.
Edgin Darvis (Pine) has dedicated his days to the Harpers organization, a group of bards who use their musical skills and wandering ways as a cover for Intelligence gathering and noble deeds in the name of the Lord of Neverwinter. The constant, covert battle has cost him dearly and he longs for a time when he can focus on his beautiful wife, Zia (Landers) and their new baby girl, Kira. He talks to Zia about quitting the Harpers and getting out, but it’s too late. Returning from a mission aiding other Harpers, he finds Zia stricken by a horrendous poison typically used by the Red Wizards of Thay, a nefarious organization feared by those of Neverwinter. He’s able to find Kira nestled in a secret nook and though desperately relieved to find his daughter, he is disconsolate and despondent over Zia’s death.
Darvis is propped up by his best friend, Holga Kill-gore (Rodriguez), a highly proficient, battle-tested barbarian who helps him keep it together and raises Kira at his side. An embittered Edgin breaks with the Harpers and turns to a life of crime. A few years pass. Edgin and Holga use their ill-gotten gains to keep Kira (Coleman) and themselves comfortable. After a successful smash-and-grab, Darvis gives his daughter a jeweled pendant which proves to have the power of invisibility. Kira promises the pair she’ll keep the potent stone a secret.
Holga and Edgin carry on, joined in their thieving and robbing by the self-sabotaging sorcerer Simon Aumar (Smith), the fast-talking rogue Forge Fitzwilliam (Grant) and his wizard-friend Sofina (Head). One day, Fitzwilliam brings Darvis a foolproof plan for a heist at the local Harpers’ Headquarters. Among other treasures, he’s come to learn of a priceless talisman kept in the vault there. Known as the Resurrection Tablet, the talisman can bring back any one person’s one loved one once, and Darvis can use it to bring back his beloved Zia. Though Edgin has ended his association with the Harpers years before, he still knows all of their secrets and can get the team safely and surreptitiously into and out of the vault.
Momentarily beset by doubts, but still drowning in his yearning for Zia, Darvis deceptively convinces himself that he’s really going to get the tablet so Kira can have a mother again. However conscious of not wanting his daughter to get her hopes up only for Kira to fall into despair if they should fail, Edgin doesn’t tell her where they’re going, what they’re doing, or why they’re doing it, only that they’ll be back soon.
The gang’s incursion goes smoothly and Edgin opens the vault for them. As the team triumphantly gathers up their trophies, gems, and jewels, Darvis accidentally trips a filament trap attached to the tablet, and sets off an alarm along with a magic, expanding, slow-time-sphere. As Harper’s guards burst in, Sofina lashes out with lightning, revealing herself to be a Red Wizard of Thay. Simon, Fitzwilliam, and the ferocious Red Wizard are able to escape, but Kill-gore and Edgin are stuck fast, frozen in the time-sphere. With his final words, Darvis exacts a promise from Forge that he will look after Kira, and as his friends flee to freedom, Edgin and Holga find themselves under arrest.
Due to their repeat offenses, the pair is given a brutal prison sentence in the harsh and frozen north and Darvis immediately begins plotting an escape. After two cold and dreary years, they are granted a parole hearing. The friends take full advantage of the opportunity and events align for a less-than-elegant escape.
Hoping to find Kira, they make their way back to Neverwinter and the empty and abandoned cottage. They are shocked to discover that Lord Neverwinter is in a coma and Fitzwilliam is now the Steward, running Neverwinter as if he were a king. Traveling to Castle Neverwinter in the capital city, Darvis and Kill-gore confront Forge only to find that he’s lied to Kira to set her against her father in case Edgin ever returned and the two friends are captured again.
Sofina sets a crew of goons with the task of executing Edgin and Holga, but they are no match for the experienced and canny pair, who pummel and disarm the mooks easily. Darvis reasons that he’ll need to prove to Kira that Fitzwilliam is lying, which means he’ll need evidence. He’ll have to break into the enchanted vault in the heart of Castle Neverwinter to steal the Resurrection Tablet back from Forge as well as thwart the power of the Red Wizard and to do that, he’ll need Simon.
After they track him down and convince him to join their raid, Simon suggests they recruit a shape-changing druid acquaintance of his, the tiefling Doric (Lillis). Doric has the power to transform her body into various beasts like a massive and mighty owl-bear, a dragonfly, a cat, mouse, or a falcon, and she uses her power to help the elves battle back against the depredations and deforestation efforts of Fitzwilliam who, as Steward of Neverwinter, has broken a treaty brokered by the now-comatose Lord.
Simon balks when he learns what enchantments seal the vault as they are far beyond his abilities. Holga remembers a tale of her people concerning a magic helm that could cancel out all other magic. If they can find it and if Simon can make it work, it should be simple to crack the hardest safe there is and get Darvis’ daughter back. They’re able to track the helm down but the current owner of the magic helmet is Xenk Yandar (Page), a paladin of Thay.
Can they convince the mysterious paladin to aid them in their quest? Can Simon gain the self-confidence he needs to don the helmet and bend it to his will? Can Doric get over her distrust of humans and learn to work well with others? Can the team break into the vault and find the Resurrection Tablet? Can Edgin put his selfish ways behind him and devote himself to his daughter? Will Kira believe him even if he says he means it? Will Holga stop killing people long enough to recognize that she and Darvis are more than “just” friends? Will Fitzwilliam get what’s coming to him? What is the nefarious Red Wizard’s real plan of conquest, and can our heroes make it out alive? All the answers to those questions can be found watching Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves in little over two hours.
“We could shoot an arrow with a note attached into her room.”
“No! What if we hit her?”
“That’s a risk we’ll have to take.”
Chris Pine is super-grizzled in Honor Among Thieves, and just looks tired. At first, it almost makes sense, Edgin Darvis is supposed to have been in prison with minimum sanitary facilities and nothing to shave with, but after two years, you‘d expect him to look like a member of ZZ Top, not scruffy like he’s coming off a serious weekend bender. He also often doesn’t make eye contact with many of his fellow actors which this reviewer found off-putting. He manages to make his marks and quip his quips, (and oh, man there are a lot of quips) but only seems to come alive in one particularly goofy scene.
Michelle Rodriguez is game. She’s a woman who’s made bank on genre flicks and clearly likes doing them. Rodriguez and her stunt double are having a blast busting heads and kicking ass. She’s known as a female version of Sean Bean on account of the propensity of SO many of her characters dying in SO many of her films, but Daley, Gilio, and Goldstein know this, lean into this, and play with the audience’s expectations expertly.
Sophia Lillis’ Doric is a perfectly played, rebellious youth fighting the power and sticking it to the Man. She’s spunky, she’s spicy, she’s impatient, and has no time for Simon’s self-doubt. Lillis keeps Doric on edge, an alien among the other races who is never quite comfortable. When it’s time to throw down, her shape-shifting powers make her a fearsome and terrifying combatant, with her owl-bear form in particular being a hoot.
Justice Smith’s Simon Aumar is equally uncomfortable but in an entirely different axis. Smith’s Simon is perpetually unsure, nearly paralyzed with dismay and constantly getting in his own way. His arc of growing confidence is articulated and manifested well.
Hugh Grant’s heel-turn as Forge Fitzwilliam is hardly a stretch for him. He’s doing the same charming-yet-clumsy, stammering boob he’s played since his star-turning role in 1994’s Four Weddings and a Funeral, but in this case, there’s a hardness beneath the boobery. Like Ben Kingsley in 1992’s Sneakers, he’s polite and friendly but at the same time, ruthless and implacable. He’s trying to steal the treasures of several realms as well as Darvis’ child, doing both with a tight smile and pleasant affect.
Regé -Jean Page is just a very handsome and graceful man. His Xenk Yandar steals every scene he’s in. Page is hilarious, doing a seemingly emotionless, straight-man performance with shades of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock and he has impeccable timing. He dances through his action scenes with a remarkable fluidity and has great comedic chops. This reviewer was soundly disappointed with the limited amount of screen time granted to Mr. Page who could’ve walked away with the movie.
Chloe Coleman’s Kira is properly emotional and can turn on the waterworks when required. The very nature of her character in the narrative (and her magic pendant) keeps her off-screen for the bulk of the film but when she’s acting off of Pine, Grant, or Rodriguez, she’s able to hold her own.
Georgia Landers’ Zia is ethereal and luminous. She’s given phenomenal lighting and looks gorgeous. Unfortunately, she’s not given a whole lot to do and then refrigerated very swiftly. She’s basically just there as motivation for the actions of Chris Pine’s Edgin throughout the picture.
Daisy Head gets to completely cut loose and go bonkers. Actors always say it’s better to be bad, and once unmasked, her Sofina chews on the scenery like Jaws the shark chews on swimmers. She’s amazing, all bug-eyed and over-the-top and it works next to Grant’s understated fumble-stutter villainy. Her explosive performance is really fun to watch and it looks like she enjoyed the gig.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves has nothing to do with the disastrous 2000 movie starring Jeremy irons and Thora Birch and simply titled, Dungeons & Dragons. There is little to tie that earlier flaming train wreck of a film to the world of D&D with the exception of the title and the presence of a single monster unique to the role-playing world of Dungeons & Dragons. However, in Honor Among Thieves, Goldstein, Gilio, and Daley valiantly insert many visible connections to the various editions of the rulebooks by way of the multiple races and monsters given the spotlight in the picture along with a very sly nod to the classic cartoon running on CBS from 1983-’85.
The action sequences and effects for Honor Among Thieves are very well put together. Production values are top-notch with a splendid and unexpected use of practical effects that blended seamlessly with the CG environments. The physical sets themselves didn’t always align with the incredibly detailed CG establishing shots and often seemed too clean for the setting. Darvis and Kill-gore shlep their way to Neverwinter from the frigid north after their prison escape on foot with no food, no water, no weather-appropriate garb, and nothing to make a fire with. That stuck out to this reviewer as slightly implausible. That being said, there are very few other things to nitpick. There is a cute cameo by Bradley Cooper and at one point Simon gets a magic wand that, for all intents and purposes, is a portal gun straight out of the Valve 2007 video game, Portal. Its power is utilized well and pays off perfectly in the appropriate place. The classic cartoon’s Easter egg won a guffaw from this reviewer when recognized. It was a great callback and a very nice touch.
It’s very nice to see the Dungeons & Dragons creatures, character classes, and environs in live-action in 2023, but it’s odd. 2012’s John Carter felt derivative after decades and decades of Star Wars and Star Wars-similar IP’s though Edgar Rice-Burroughs ‘source material predated Lucasfilm’s work by approximately fifty years. D&D came out long before many of its rivals. However, in the near half-century since then it’s now very easy to get a D&D-adjacent or D&D-like experience from other films, TV shows, a whole slew of copycat pencil-and-paper RPGs or video games like the insanely popular Elden Ring, and many, many others such as Diablo and the Elder Scrolls series.
It might help if a Dungeons & Dragons movie remembered D&D is a game and showed it being played as part of the movie. Maybe this film could’ve had scenes with Regé -Jean Page as the Dungeon Master, setting the stage for the other players and running the show, which would explain his Xenk’s too-brief presence in the story as an NPC (non-player-character). The picture could be intercut with the actors gathered in various locations as the film went on, rolling dice and reacting to events.
Something like that might make this attempt at a franchise distinguish itself and stand out from its peers like the Lord of the Rings, Conan the Barbarian, Game of Thrones, the several Harry Potter series or The Rings of Power. As it does, as it is, other than its trademarked monsters and locations, it doesn’t particularly. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a fun, entertaining popcorn picture with great franchise potential if handled properly, but that’s a very big if.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is in theatres now.
Dungeons & Dragons was created byGary Gygax and Dave Arneson.