Honor Among Thieves Triumphs Just For Existing
Let’s get two things out of the way regarding Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. First off, I know some stuff about the game, but I’m not a hardcore TTRPG player. I got some of the abundant references—but a lot of them went right over my head, and my criticisms may be affected or skewed in some way by this. And second, it needs to be acknowledged from a pop culture history standpoint how cool it is that this film exists at all. Yes, nowadays, we live in a post-Marvel world, where massive budgets are thrown at nerdy properties with such regularity it’s somehow wrapping around to some people finding it obnoxious, but that wasn’t always the case. There was a period of time when things like D&D were considered the least cool hobby you could have, only matched by Magic: The Gathering or video games. So, though I’m not going to be the most positive in this review, I need it clarified that I absolutely love that this sort of movie exists. Seeing these iconic monsters and magic spells rendered with this much care and attention is delightful.
And really, my complaints are half-hearted outside specific moments that’ll get their own paragraphs. Honor Among Thieves is often predictable, broadly generic, and relies on somewhat oddly placed plot beats because it’s trying to encapsulate some of the broad feelings of playing a story-driven RPG. Each character gets very blunt moments of stating their motivations and sharing some of their backstories—because that’s one way you can set up an adventuring party. We’re essentially being read their character sheets before the first game session.
The Film Feels Like Playing A Fun D&D Campaign
And whether that conceptually appeals to you will determine if you like Honor Among Thieves at all: because it’s not just the characters. Even the fight scenes and plot beats emulate the D&D experience. In certain battles, each character uses a distinct attack, and it seems to be one attack at a time. Yes, they are all “playing” simultaneously because this is still a movie, and we can’t have actual turn-based combat, but it’s noticeable in scene composition. But even further, some plot beats feel like they were introduced by a DM who just thought it would be cool. Why did that dragon show up? Because why not? Why are they forced into what’s essentially a dungeon (which even mimics 1×1 graphing paper squares or board game blocks in its visual design) to fight a bunch of random Easter Eggs? Because that sounds like fun for the players/audience.
But Honor Among Thieves doesn’t take this far enough. If we’re going to have a movie with this light of a tone and as many direct connections to the game as possible, then why do only around half the classes get this treatment? Wizards, sorcerers, paladins, and druids get very distinct moves and spells and fun scenes with magic, while bards, berserkers, and rogues are treated with as much realism as possible. If a “move” or attack can be represented literally, with just a physical strike or dialog, then it’s shown that way. Don’t get me wrong, seeing the berserker wreck a room full of soldiers is still fun, but I was expecting absurd strength or magical rage. Worse, though, is the bard’s representation. The bard literally never (maybe once, maybe) casts what’s acknowledged as a spell. This swinging back and forth between bombast and understated gives the whole thing an air of untapped potential.
Honor Among Thieves Could Have Been More Fun
At least they got the interplay of an adventuring party right—as well as perfectly orchestrating the “heist movie” vibe that pairs wonderfully with D&D. I was only mildly positive about the frequent quips and comedy (still better than Love and Thunder), but this group of sarcastic, teasing, occasionally very incompetent, but also wildly overpowered adventurers, had all the archetypical hallmarks you could want. Egin (played by Chris Pine) is a charming and overly optimistic bard who functions as the team leader. Holga (played by Michelle Rodriguez) acts as a great counterpoint to his antics by being mostly calm and chill but also the heart of the whole adventure. Simon (played by Justice Smith) gets a very generic but still well-handled plot about self-confidence. And Doric (played by Sophia Lillis) has these deadpan quips throughout that are just kind of delightful. I do wish that we didn’t have the blink-and-you’ll-miss and awkwardly handled (though I’ve certainly seen worse) romance between Doric and Simon. It just wasn’t needed. The best scenes in the whole movie are when you get a sense of either the adventuring crew’s creative teamwork or that they do actually enjoy each other’s company. Egin and Holga’s platonic interactions are charming and extremely appreciated; Simon and Doric needed way more pronounced chemistry and compatibility for the subplot to be more than a distraction.
Some Of The Relationships Are Rather Unexplored
And with that opening salvo, we’re going to shift direction here and get to the specific moments worthy of criticism. The first comes right at the beginning, and I spent the minutes leading up to it wondering if they were really going to be that cliché in a 2023 movie. But, yep, straightforward fridging of the main character’s wife. The whole plot is motivated by and wraps around the killing of a generically nice female character, and our main character’s arc is moving on from letting her die. Like, come on, do we need to remove her agency like that?
Secondly is how they handle the paladin character, Xenk (played by Regé-Jean Page). And, yes, the problem could be excused by the whole “this is essentially a D&D game we’re watching” gimmick, but this pushes that really far. Basically, Xenk’s too powerful, competent, knowledgeable, funny, and charismatic of a character that it warps scenes around him. He basically takes over Honor Among Thieves for a little while, and the story has no choice but to write him out—and does so with flimsy justifications. The only comparison I can think of is a player joins a campaign over-leveled but can’t make it to regular game nights anymore.
Honor Among Thieves Makes Baffling Plot Choices
We’ve also got a weird scene involving characters’ heights. I cannot tell if the movie is treating the relationship between the berserker character and her halfling ex, Marlamin (played by Bradley Cooper), as a joke or not. There’s a surprisingly emotionally mature discussion of romantic breakups and how couples can drift apart emotionally, but there keeps being hints of mean short jokes, both in the dialog and visually. The whole scene has the energy of frequent script rewrites.
Next up, there’s Themberchaud, the large red dragon who’s too heavy to fly. It may not be a humanoid character, but it still feels like his scenes are being fatphobic. I’m not knowledgeable enough on the intricacies of the subject to delve into it, but I’m sure as this movie makes its rounds with fellow critics, someone will give the scene an appropriate amount of informed analysis.
And, finally, we have Honor Among Thieves’ extremely predictable ending moment. I’m not going to spoil it, but the only reason it didn’t drastically lower my opinion of the movie was because of the excellent CGI and fight choreography preceding it. The highlights of that awesome spectacle were Mage Hands and an oddly specific parallel moment to Marvel: The Avengers that surely had to be intentional. But once that finished up, and they launched into the cliché, I basically checked out until it was done. I need to make clear that it wasn’t terrible in concept, and it could’ve been an emotional gut punch on par with Onward’s or Encanto’s hard-hitting moments, but there wasn’t enough setup, not enough resonance. If you know basic plot structure, you’ll know every note of the song. At least they didn’t drag it out like they could have, and the very final scenes were once again fun.
The Big Emotional Ending Scene Mostly Falls Flat
If I had to sum up Honor Among Thieves, I would call it a good starting point for hopefully more robust options later. I realize I’m encouraging another franchise powerhouse to flood streaming sites, but D&D is a nigh-perfect option for our modern media zeitgeist—this movie proves it. They should give diverse filmmakers and showrunners access to the iconography and some top-tier CGI, and then we all get to enjoy the results. For now, Honor Among Thieves is very much a popcorn movie with a stock plot, no real surprises, and isn’t going to challenge the viewer, but its two-hour-plus runtime flew by. It’s fantasy escapism that understands its source material, and if you’ve ever spent time playing Dungeons & Dragons with friends, you’re going to have a blast.
Possibly Related Posts: