Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Review
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is out in theatres! Fans of the game have been looking forward to this one for a while now, hoping that it will do justice to the hobby they love. We even wrote an article a couple months back detailing some of the reasons why we thought this might be the D&D movie we’ve been waiting for HERE. Having finally gotten the chance to see it ourselves, we’re happy to say that the movie lives up to our expectations, and more so!
So what did this movie get right? What sets it apart from other attempts? And what, if anything, did it get wrong?
Beware some slight non-plot-relevant spoilers ahead. You can wait to read this article until after you’ve seen the movie if you want a truly unspoiled first viewing, but we won’t mention anything important to the story here!
At its core, D&D is a game about fighting monsters. Not every D&D book contains an adventure, rules, or character options, but almost without exception each one has monsters in the back! Some of these monsters are so iconic that they are recognized even by those that have never played the game! So it makes sense that in a movie populated by creatures from the game that all manner of bizarre creatures would fill the screen, and even be integral to the plot in places! In that regard, this movie hits the nail on the head!
Upon our first viewing, we detected 15 unique monsters in the movie (not including the player character races, of which a great deal appeared)! Some of them were quite prominent, filling the screen and interacting with the heroes. Others were more subtle, hinting from the periphery that this world was quite unlike our own. Still others only received lip service, being mentioned casually by characters as though they were an assumed part of life in the Sword Coast. And that’s how it should be! These monsters are part of the everyday lives of folk in this fantasy world! Seeing one should not feel like a novel experience, and that’s what helps it feel novel to us as the viewers!
Monsters detected in the movie include the displacer beast, gelatinous cube, mimic, owlbear, and dragons seen in the trailers, as well as a giant spider, an adorable pair of rust monsters, intellect devourers, and several cameos by axebeaks, to name a few! Did you catch ones we missed?
Magic is assumed in a D&D campaign. Many heroic classes have access to some sort of magic, and many conveniences available to people living in the modern world through technology are similarly solved in a medieval fantasy setting via magic in D&D. It rides the line between being commonly available and yet uncommon that anyone be truly great at it.
One moment in the movie that illustrated this well stood out to us. The party’s sorcerer, Simon, is performing magic for a small farming village in their theater. He performs some cantrip-level magic for them to distract them while using higher level magic to steal their valuables. One unimpressed attendee shouts that her child can perform magic on par with the parlor tricks Simon is performing, and that’s saying something! Even children can cast magic in this world! That said, they all came out to see a “real” magician perform! The prospect of seeing higher level magic was an occasion for the community to gather and be entertained! But the magic being used to steal their belongings was uncommon, so much so that they weren’t prepared for it or expecting it, even from a man who knew how to use magic!
Furthermore, just like in the game, magic in the movie has its limits. Spellcasters can’t solve every problem with their magic, and there are limitations and countermeasures to deal with powerful mages. And, on multiple occasions throughout the movie, brute force overpowers weak magic, meaning that even powerful wizards still need to be on their toes!
We counted over 30 magical spells, items, and abilities in the movie, some used multiple times! From classics like fire bolt wild shape, and invisibility, to more obscure examples such as counterspell, meteor swarm, disguise self, and speak with dead! We strongly suspect we will detect more with another viewing! What were some of your favorite uses of magic in the movie?
When setting your story in the Forgotten Realms, you have almost six decades of history and worldbuilding around you! The Sword Coast in particular is a very familiar part of that world to fans of the game, who will expect to recognize certain locations and regions that the characters are likely to pass through on their adventures. Fans of R. A. Salvatore’s The Legend of Drizzt novels will be even more familiar with the area, even knowing the names of local clans and tribes in the area.
Even upon first viewing, we recognized eight famous locations from the Forgotten Realms in the movie. It was amazing to see many of them realized on the big screen with such attention to detail! The heroes go on a globe-trotting adventure, as many parties do in real-life Dungeons and Dragons games, and we get to see such an adventure play out before us! While much of the story takes place in the widely-known city of Neverwinter, we also get to see Thay, the Underdark, and (briefly) Mount Hotenow. Icewind Dale, Baldurs Gate, the Evermoors, and Triboar are mentioned as well!
Since we aren’t experts on the Sword Coast, we are SURE we missed some on only our first viewing. What other locations were shown or mentioned? Any that stood out to you?
In our last article, we said this would be one of the more difficult aspects of a D&D movie to nail, but that we had high hopes for it! D&D is a story about serious adventures, with high stakes and demanding a personal investment from its players. The characters on screen should care about what’s going on, and we as the audience should care that they care. But at the same time, D&D is a game, and games are meant to be fun. Every good D&D game is rife with jokes, asides, witty repartee, slapstick humor, and innuendos. It just doesn’t feel like D&D if either of those aspects is missing, or if the balance is off.
We’re happy to report that the makers of this movie understood this well, and made every effort to strike the correct tone. The movie never loses its action comedy feel, even at its most pivotal moments. The characters cooperate to save the world, but all the while they are giving each other grief, sassing one another, pointing out each others’ flaws, and undermining one another in hilarious ways just like a real D&D party! They frustrate one another, disagree with one another, take life more or less seriously than one another, and are motivated by wildly different things… but they set those differences aside when it matters most, and even celebrate their diversity throughout the movie. Furthermore, there are several moments where Edgin seems to “break” character in the early minutes of the movie as he reveals his backstory to some NPCs, which gave us a sense of all of the out of character comments made around the table while we play, which left us giggling in our seats!
The quick and effortless deliveries of well-written banter between Edgin and Holga especially are a constant source of laugh out loud moments through the runtime, and Simon’s hamfisted attempts to flirt are charmingly ineffective. The genius of casting Hugh Grant as the self-centered and foppish con man was inspired, however, and made us laugh more than anyone else! He is entirely unbothered by things that should bother him, and incredibly concerned with inconsequential matters (like the temperature of his tea). To read it, that may not seem particularly endearing or funny, but if you’ve seen the movie, you know the scene!
All these little elements add up to keep the mood of the movie somewhere between serious and seriously funny, which puts it in the sweet spot for us. What were your favorite moments? Were they dramatic or serious?
Even when a movie does its best, it can’t get everything right. Especially when the source material is so widely known and beloved. Even though the Lord of the Rings movies were a cinematic triumph and great pains were taken to be true to the original works, there were areas where it fell short. And, at least in this case, we can see why they made the choices they did.
Here are some things we noticed throughout the movie that are not true to D&D, even though the worked for the movie:
Magic is for more than just mages!
Throughout the movie, Simon the sorcerer and Sofina the wizard are the only characters that casts spells, despite there being a druid, bard, and paladin around. Druids are some of the most powerful spellcasters in the game, with bards following close behind. Furthermore, with a single exception near the end of the movie, they are also the only ones that appear capable of using magic items, which is far from the case in the game. But this makes their characters feel more specialized in the context of the movie.
Druids should be able to do more than just wild shape (we just said that they’re powerful spellcasters), but that seems to be the only trick up Doric’s sleeve. And druids shouldn’t be able to turn into monstrosities like owlbears… it’s almost a bad joke in the community that they should be able to, but they can’t. Glad Doric isn’t constrained by the rules! And, again, it helps the various party members feel more distinct when they are specialized rather than having overlap in their abilities.
Outrunning time stop.
Twice in the movie the spell time stop is cast. Each time the heroes (partially) succeed in outrunning what should be an instantaneous spell. The effect is awesome, and the opportunities it provides for the story speak for themselves, but it’s not technically correct.
There are a few others, but these are the ones I’ve heard most often. Especially that Edgin, the party bard, doesn’t appear to cast any spells in the game. But once you see what sort of spells Edgin supposedly knows, it seems a mite more forgivable. If you’re curious, the gang at WOTC did make stat blocks for the major players in the movie. You can check them out HERE!
The movie is not without its flaws, no movie is. Decisions were made that individual viewers may not agree with, and this is certainly only one vision of how a D&D movie should be made. But it’s a worthy one, clearly made with passion and a knowledge of the subject matter, which is more than I can necessarily say of previous attempts. And it does so with a tongue-in-cheek humor common in our own home games. In the end, our highest recommendation is that we can't wait to see it again and hunt for more (seasonally appropriate) Easter eggs!
Those are our thoughts, but what are yours? Did you love it as much as we did? If not, what got in the way of that enjoyment for you? Let us know your answers in the comments below, or tag us on our socials by clicking HERE!