Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves review — It isn’t magical

Written and Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein | Written by Daley, Goldstein, and Michael Gilio | 134 min | ▲▲△△△ | Netflix

The cinematic history of this globally popular role-playing game isn’t exactly stellar. Back in 2000 there was a feature starring Marlon Wayans, Thora Birch, and Jeremy Irons, a theatrical bomb that still spawned TV and straight-to-video sequels. I confess I didn’t expect much from another effort to bring this gaming material to the big screen — Stranger Things has a lot to answer for — so was surprised to read the favourable reviews from the critical community.

My experience of this new take on D&D is that it’s at best…  just OK.

It has a winning cast in a familiar-feeling fantasy about a group of roguish thieves on a mission in a world filled with magic. The effects aren’t bad and the movie moves along at a reasonable pace. So why would I be reluctant to recommend it?  Because it’s way too long, for starters. For material that’s probably most appealing to a young audience it could’ve used a serious edit, it falls into that pit of a special effects slurry in the final act, and, worst of all, the film fails to make us feel for the characters despite their charm.

Chris Pine is the lead, Edgin, who we meet in prison with his warrior friend, Holga (Michelle Rodriguez). They ended up there because they’re thieves, but the Robin Hood variety. They break out and Edgin’s first thoughts are for his daughter, Kira (Chloe Coleman). Turns out she’s been living with con artist and former associate, Forge (Hugh Grant), who’s become the new lord of a castle called Neverwinter with the aid of a wizard named Sofina (Daisy Head).

Edgin and Holga hatch a plan to get her out of Forge’s clutches and that involves teaming up with former and new associates, including a sorcerer with self-esteem issues, Simon (Justice Smith),  a shape-shifting druid named Doric (Sophia Lillis), and a handsome paladin named Xenk Yandar (Regé-Jean Page).

We get a lot of information coming at a good clip about bad blood, warring peoples, and magical objects. I did play the game way back in Grade Six and Seven, and I recall enough about it to know references to Baldur’s Gate will please anyone who’s invested in its world.

Probably the best thing about the film is it doesn’t take the material too seriously. The lightness of touch helps to carry the day in scenes where the merry band uses a spell to interview dead men about the location of a magical helmet, or when they have to escape monsters by jumping into a giant cube of acidic jello. We also get a surprising cameo that I won’t spoil and, as usual, Grant is a major asset. However, in terms of laugh-out-loud moments we get precious few.

I really wish I cared more for everyone on the screen. For the most part these are fetching and well-defined characters, but rarely did I end up invested in them and their various quests. There’s a moment late in the running where a character is mortally wounded, and only then do we learn how genuinely important they are to another character. This is supposed to be moving, but it really isn’t.

I gather The Princess Bride was an influence on the writers, but this picture is nowhere near as funny, nor as affecting. Frankly, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is too often a bit dull, and that’s saying something for a movie working as hard as it does to deliver fun. I suspect all the glowing reviews its earned are a product of critics whose expectations were so low for a fantasy IP tentpole that they couldn’t help but be wowed, but it’s really just another example of an entertainment factory not delivering near its best.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.