Critical successes — they’re not just for players anymore! The Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves movie has an incredible 91 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, an impressive number for a film adaptation of what was once considered the nerdiest of hobbies. But D&D fans and mass audiences alike love Honour Among Thieves, and there’s a lot to love — the film is a blast to watch, full of action, humour, and fantasy — but it isn’t quite perfect.
Minor plot spoilers follow.
1) You don’t need to be a D&D nerd to enjoy it
Honour Among Thieves perfectly threads the needle of giving fans what they want to see without confusing the many, many people who have never rolled a 20-sided die in their life. You don’t need to have been a third-level Ranger to understand what a Mimic is, and you didn’t need to know who Mordenkainen was to understand Forge’s vault had some heavy magic protecting it. But for fans, Honour Among Thieves was full of classic D&D references from Displacer Beasts to Owlbears, to even the old ‘80s cartoon.
2) The humour
Honour Among Thieves may have more comedy than it does action, and it has a lot of action. Not every joke lands, but all of the film’s stars — Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, and Hugh Grant — have incredible delivery, and better still, amazing chemistry together that not only makes their banter to each other funny but replicates the experience of playing an actual D&D session with your friends. Lots of mocking, lots of laughing, lots of cursing when things inevitably go to hell — the movie understands and replicates the fun of RPGs.
3) Regé-Jean Page as Xenk
Obviously, it would be tough to steal the movie from such a talented cast, but Regé-Jean Page pulls off this amazing heist, and while playing a Paladin to boot. Xenk is an utterly humorless character who ends up being a laugh riot for his inability — maybe unwillingness — to say or understand anything but the plainest of speech. He’s also a holy badass, churning out the movie’s best fight scenes. As Edgin correctly puts it, Xenk is good at everything but talking, and the fact he’s so bad at the last part is what makes him so great.
4) Doric’s amazing escape
When Doric the Tiefling Druid sneaks into Castle Winter to case the joint prior to the big heist, Sofina the Red Wizard quickly figures out someone’s using the shape-shifting power Wildshape to spy on them. When she sports Doric as a fly, what kicks off is a five-minute action scene with Doric shape-changing into a variety of animals to escape the wizard and a castle full of Neverwinter soldiers. It’s an exhilarating sequence, made more so by appearing to be a single camera shot. It rules.
5) There’s no meta-gaming
If you’ve played D&D or other tabletop role-playing games, you have almost certainly had “table talk” — where you and your compatriots talk about what’s happening in the game out of character. It’s fine when playing a game, but it would have been a disaster for the movie. Any kind of meta-commentary would have taken viewers out of the world of the film, by necessity, and would have marred the experience. The restraint directors/writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein had to not include anyone in the film rolling a die is commendable.
6) The fat dragon
Dragons have become so codified in modern pop culture it would have been easy to assume — actually, it would have been hard not to assume — that Honour Among Thieves would give us more dragons that looked like they flew right out of Game of Thrones. And it probably would have been fine! But Daley and Goldstein wanted to give viewers something different, so instead, we were treated to our adventuring party trying to outrun a very, very obese dragon. (The dragon is also a D&D deep-cut character named Themberchaud, which is also something non-nerds don’t need to know to understand or enjoy the scene.) It was funny, it was exciting, it was unique, and it sums up the movie extremely well.
7) The reverse-heist
When the adventuring party needs to get into Forge’s magically sealed vault, they hunt for a magic item that can reverse the ward on the door. When that doesn’t work, they use a portal-creating wand in an incredibly inventive way. Explaining it would take forever, and be a spoiler, but suffice it to say they need to sneak a painting into a heavily protected wagon. This kind of creative problem-solving is part of what makes playing Dungeons & Dragons so fun. The Dungeon Master presents a problem, and the players have to figure out a way to solve it which inevitably gets wild, weird, and overelaborate. It’s just another way Honour Among Thieves epitomizes D&D without ever saying D&D.
8) Chris Pine melting
This was unexpected. In order to sneak into the castle, Edgin has Simon the wizard duplicate him as an illusion, strolling up to the guards and singing a jaunty tune. Unfortunately, the spell starts to go awry, Faux-Edgin’s voice starts skipping like a record, and then… he starts physically warping, like Photoshop has gone horribly wrong. His eyes get huge, his mouth extends horribly, and his head starts sinking into his torso. It’s horrific and horrifically funny, and we’d be surprised if DMs didn’t start making their players’ illusion spells fail in the exact same way.
9) The owlbear
1) What We Didn’t Like: Starting the film with a sexual assault joke
The movie begins with an orc being taken into a prison in Icewind Dale, then led into the cell where Edgin and Holga are imprisoned. The orc instantly starts sexually harassing Holga, threatening rape. Of course, Holga the Barbarian can take care of herself, and easily gives the orc a very painful, satisfying comeuppance. But it would have been even more satisfying to have not started the fun, breezy Honour Among Thieves on such a sour note.
2) The dead wife
We’re not sure what the medieval equivalent of Women in Refrigerators would be, but Edgin’s poor wife is certainly one of them. She has no depth whatsoever — she’s just a big ball of love Edgin can cuddle under a bedsheet — and she exists solely to die and thus set the Bard on his journey. Getting to know his wife as a person, to any degree, would have given the movie’s final scene much, much more emotional weight.