Dungeons and Dragons is a role-playing gaming phenomenon, but as I sat down to watch a captioned screening of Honour Among Thieves at the London premiere in Cineworld Leicester Square on Thursday, I knew next to nothing about it.
Obviously the name and the fire pits on the red carpet suggested I was in for a fantasy/medieval tale, but I couldn’t help but wonder just how much enjoyment I would get from a movie which seemed to be aimed at hardcore fans of the tabletop game above anyone else.
Fortunately, Honour Among Thieves is quick at chucking a bunch of exposition in your face to get you up to speed. Lute-playing Edgin (Star Trek‘s Chris Pine), a former member of a group known as the Harpers, lost his wife to a Red Wizard (the big bad in this fictional universe). He teams up with barbarian Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), young sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith) and the rogue Forge (Hugh Grant) to get her back through the use of a resurrection tablet, but that fails when Forge’s new magical friend Sofina (Daisy Head) captures Edgin and Holga in a time stop spell. Got all that?
After a period in prison, the pair are considered for a pardon but get out through an elaborate escape, rejoining forces with Simon – and his love interest, the shapeshifting druid Doric (Sophia Lillis) – to try again at getting hold of the tablet. Said tablet is now in the possession of Forge, who has been looking after Edgin’s daughter Kira (Chloe Colman) and feeding her lies about where her father has been all this time. Sofina is still hanging about too.
It’s hardly surprising that a role-playing game would give us so many characters to keep on top of, but it serves as both a blessing and a curse for story writers Chris McKay and Michael Gilio, and screenplay creators and directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley. Each character, naturally, demands a subplot which can easily weave into the narrative arcs of other protagonists, but at the same time, it risks overloading the viewer with a lot of information at once. A good amount of dialogue is dedicated towards mentioning geographical places and objects which bear no relevance to the quartet’s adventure, but clearly offer up some fan service for those immersed in the lore. Why these references couldn’t at least build upon the plot or a character, in addition to being an amusing easter egg for avid followers of the franchise, isn’t entirely clear.
It’s frustrating too that we have to drop a few character arcs along the way. Holga initially talks about being rejected from her tribe and yet doesn’t seem to care all that much across the film’s duration. Doric dislikes humans and wants to uphold the rights of her community, but again, little attention is given to what exactly she wants out of this whole escapade. Instead, save for her magical involvement in the group dynamic (being able to shapeshift into a fly sure does come in handy), she is often tapped into for the tiniest spark of chemistry between her and Simon. The amateur sorcerer, by the way, has a confidence issue and can only perform a small number of unremarkable spells – it’s why Doric was previously put off him.
So a lot of our time is spent rooting for Edgin to be reunited with his daughter and deceased wife, and Simon to get with the girl/druid/mythical being of his dreams. In fairness, Holga has a string of thrilling fight sequences which are brilliantly visceral and pack an oomph, but there’s not a lot going for her besides her being upset over a former lover. It’s disappointing, when you think about it.
Though what’s refreshing in terms of Simon’s character, at least, is that he is quick to dismiss the easy ex machina that can come from being able to magic your way out of a problem. There are, pleasingly, limitations to how and when the magician can conjure the adventurers out of a particular predicament. It’s just as satisfying that the writers don’t shy away from just how weird and whimsical all this information can seem to a novice – I certainly enjoyed those gags as someone who doesn’t know any different.
Ultimately, there is a wider world of Dungeons and Dragons which is helpfully filtered through the lens of our quartet, rather than explained to us through some giant, world-building exposition. Save for the aforementioned dumping of irrelevant information from time-to-time, the plot points introduced to us become strictly need-to-know, and that helps it walk into being a casual fantasy flick similar to that of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones – it certainly scratches an itch until the former franchise gets more film releases courtesy of Peter Jackson.
So yes, Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves is a very enjoyable and accessible watch for someone entirely new to the popular board game – in fact, at times, the infectious camaraderie actually made me want to learn how to play Dungeons and Dragons – despite all the difficult instructions and rules which come with that. Despite its narrative flaws (including a predictable plot point towards the end), it promises a whole lot of fun over two hours.
Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves screens in UK cinemas from Friday.
Disclaimer: While I was invited to the London premiere and gifted two tickets to see the film, I was under no obligation to post anything on this website or my social media platforms as a result. As such, I have not been paid to write this article.