Directed by: John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures, Entertainment One
Written by Taylor Baker
If you’re anything like me you’ve been waiting decades to take a seat at your local multiplex and journey to the continent of Faerûn. Hoping to hear the name Elminster uttered, mention of Menzoberranzan, or at least the Underdark, to see Owlbears, Bugbears, Mind Flayers (Illithids), Liches, Icewind Dale, and Waterdeep come to life on the big screen. “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” largely satisfies those wants. Audiences are treated to images of the Underdark, an Owlbear, and a Bugbear, and more than simply hearing the name Elminister whispered, we see Justice Smith’s character Simon Aumar play his great-great-grandson. John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein for better or worse are able to juggle the varied expectations many audience members have into something mostly cohesive that winks to many audience members while staying true to a conventional narrative and presentation that any filmgoer–no matter how unfamiliar–can follow.
The film centers as all too many renditions of Faerûn do, on the city of Neverwinter. Sometimes called the Jewel of the North, the battle for both its political and religious control has been at the center of both video games (Neverwinter and Neverwinter Nights), novels (Too many to name but R.A. Salvatore’s Neverwinter Saga is a good start), and tabletop campaigns for decades. “Honor Among Thieves” weaves and enmeshes many familiar elements from the varied media and games that influenced it into a largely crowd-pleasing, if CG-laden affair. Complete with portcullis’ crashing down, a tiefling druid shape-shifting into a deer, and Chris Pine spinning a ballad on a lute. Its light-heartedness and action sequences are when and where the film is at its best, when Daley and Goldstein seek to create emotional stakes, tie in seriousness, and in general share with the audience what is in the heart of the characters is where the film stumbles. They rely heavily on conveniences that often border on the idiotic such as when Justice Smith’s Simon overcomes a crucial plot point by punching his relative in the face, or the character trait of Sophia Lillis’s Doric disliking humans until she goes on this journey with our heroes. Not to mention that Michelle Rodriguez’s Holga seems to have been little more than a character created to do an impression of Drax the Destroyer.
Hugh Grant plays Forge, a villain who wants wealth and power. He had been part of a group of thieves made up of Edgin (Chris Pine), Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), and Simon (Justice Smith). After pulling off small jobs Forge talked them into joining up with a sorceress named Sophina and robbing what was essentially a vault of confiscated wealth and weapons by the very group that Edgin swore an oath to–the Harpers. Among the confiscated wealth of treasures is an artifact that could allow Edgin to bring his wife back to life. In the course of the heist, Sophina betrays all but Forge entrapping Edgin and Holga with a spell, that consequently gets them caught and sent to prison (where we meet them as the film begins) while both she and Forge getaway assuming control of Neverwinter. It’s a hammy and unoriginal plot, but its narrative devices leave plenty of room to enjoy the world and the unique elements of Faerûn. At one point, we see a baby bipedal cat pulled out of a catfish’s mouth. At another, when Edgin and Holga are about to be beheaded, Holga has a conversation about the origins of a battle axe and the best way to oil it with their executioner. These smaller nuances of the world are what has always made it special, and neither Daley nor Goldstein lose sight of that for too long, or just how ridiculous their own plot and the world can be.
For every Owlbear action scene, and fat dragon chase sequence, there are two or three awful CG establishing shots, of either our central band traveling to or arriving in a new location. While the dialogue doesn’t suffer much from exposition (using a bard as a main character seems to have helped with that quite a bit) the visuals do. It’s not only difficult to take seriously that these locations are real, but it’s also difficult to know exactly where many of these locations physically are. “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is by no means bad, but neither is it memorable in any substantial way. If nothing else as a proof of concept it is exciting, to know that we may be in store for further visits to the world that so many know and love. Mystra knows there are far better stories to tell.
“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” Trailer