Reviewed by Tim Robins
I took a roll of the dice and risked a trip to see the new Dungeons and Dragons movie in the cinema. I’m glad I did. Dungeon and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves is an amiable adventure that channels its sources – including The Princess Bride and Monty Python and the Holy Grail – into a Sword and Sorcery romp that kept the adult audience chuckling from start to finish. (No children were present, but the film has opened near the start of schools’ Spring school holiday).
There have been attempts to adapt the table-top RPG for the big and small screen before, including the pretty desperate 2000 film distinguished only by a scenery chewing performance by Jeremy Irons. One way Honour Among Thieves differs from its predecessors is that it doesn’t try to explicitly show real world players and incorporate them into the fantasy setting. Instead, the focus is on a rag-tag gathering of characters within the Dungeons and Dragons universe that reflect the kinds of roles players typically take when playing the game.
The thieves include a disgraced bard (Chris Pine), a moody barbarian woman (Michelle Rodriguez), a wizard with low self-esteem issues (Justice Smith) and a shape-shifting druid (Sophia Lillis). In a mirroring of the plot of The Mandalorian, Season Three, Forge, a member of the gang has taken his, and their, ill gotten gains to create a new, respectable life for himself as Lord of Winternever, aided by a witchy, sorcerer woman (Daisy Head).
Forge is played by Hugh Grant as if auditioning for a front bench seat in Britain’s Tory Party. He is, by turns, smarmy, manipulative, superficial, and outwardly genial, but concerned with the well-being of no one but himself.
A large part of the film’s success rests on the shoulders of the performers as we follow them on various side quests. Pine, as the bard, must seek to win back the love of his estranged daughter (Chloe Coleman), who has fallen under the sway of Forge; Smith, as the fledgling wizard Simon, must overcome the belittling voices in his head to assume his inherent powers and have a second chance at dating the shape-shifting Doric and Rodriguez’s Holga must reconcile herself with the past she has left behind, including her estranged, halfling husband, while having to dig up her ancestors to discover where a powerful Helm of Disjunction has been hidden.
The screenplay also incorporates aspects of established Dungeons and Dragons lore including various spells, objects of power and, of course, Dragons; including an obese Red Dragon called Themberchaud, who must be defeated without the thieves resorting to “body shaming”.
The effects manage to walk the line between hokey and okey-dokey. The beasts and magicks are realised in a way that looks neither overly spectacular nor disconcertedly cheap – I particularly enjoyed an arm-wrestling battle between two gigantic hands!
I undoubtedly missed many of the film’s references to the RPG (some characters such as Simon’s ancestor Elminster Aumar and the Wizard Mordenkainen are from specific books and scenarios). In contrast, I did pick up on the Pythonesque humour, including a scene where various corpses are brought back to life and in the animated drolleries that accompany the end credits (an affectionate nod to the work of Terry Gilliam). Beyond that, Regé-Jean Page is wonderful as the insufferably noble Paladin, Xenk Yandar.
I’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons. I bought a starter box and opened it with my brother. We stared in bewilderment and the sparse content. I said, “I think I’m supposed to play a talking mirror!” We put the box away somewhere unsafe and not sound in the hope it would be thrown out. Later, Nationwide (the BBC’s equivalent to Fox News) tried to whip audiences into a fury over the lack of things to play with in the expensive boxes. No one took the bait and D&D developed its own quiet following.
Despite being in development hell since 2013, Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves couldn’t be released at a better time. Stranger Things has spurred nostalgia for the game, and the web site ’Critical Role’, recording actual game-play has proved popular enough to be spun off as a range of merchandise and even comics.
All things considered, maybe I should give the game another throw of the dice.
• Dungeon and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves is in cinemas across the UK now
• Dungeon and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves – Official Web Site
• Dungeons and Dragons – Everything You Need to Start Playing (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)
• Dungeon and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves related merchandise on AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)
• Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves: The Road to Neverwinter by Jayleigh Johnson
Discover the thrilling origin stories of the bard Edgin, the barbarian Holga, and their whole adventuring party in this official prequel to Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.
Edgin Darvis’ life is a mess. All that he has left are his lute, his dashing good looks, and…not much else. After a chance encounter with badass bruiser Holga, Edgin is forced to take a hard look at his bad choices. But the road to redemption is long, and paved with unforeseen expenses. Fortunately, the world is full of rich fools begging to be parted from their money.
And so Edgin and Holga do what any sensible entrepreneurs would do – they form a crew.
Joined by a charming rogue, Forge Fitzwilliam, and Simon, a sorcerer with an intense inferiority complex, the team sets out to line their pockets with both well-earned and ill-gotten gold. Together, Edgin’s crew battles monsters across the realms: gnoll raiders, fey witches, and more fall beneath their sharp weapons and sharper wit. But when they encounter a new, more sophisticated villain, keen blades and piercing blue eyes may not be enough.
Their target? Torlinn Shrake, a wealthy eccentric known for abusing his servants and hosting lavish parties.
The plan? Play dress-up, sneak into the Shrake estate, and fill their pockets with as much loot as they can carry.
The catch? Shrake is hiding a terrible secret: one that could endanger the lives of everyone Edgin has come to care for – even if the loot is too good to pass up.
Categories: Features, Film, Games, Other Worlds, Reviews