Playing Dungeons and Dragons is a different experience for everyone who sits at a table with friends and creates stories together. Each experience is catered to their needs and wants. And no game is the same. This means making a film based on the role-playing game is all the more difficult: How do you adapt a property without a set story and with which its fans have been telling different stories?
The answer is simple: You don’t. Instead, you try and adapt the feeling one gets when playing D&D. Because of that simple fact, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a roaring success. The movie involves a charming thief (Chris Pine) and a band of unlikely adventurers who undertake an epic heist to retrieve a lost relic. But things go dangerously awry when they run afoul of the wrong people. Oh – and in the process, they might have to save the world.
It’s a simple setup, one reminiscent of sitting at a table and having your Dungeon Master give you a similarly straightforward premise. But things get complicated when you put together a group of idiots who don’t know how to plan. And therein lies the strength of the film – Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves understands what the roleplaying game is. Its strength is not in this specific story; if anything, the story is an afterthought. What makes this film enjoyable is its characters. Sure, the story is fun at times, and the set pieces are well done, but the film would never hold up if it weren’t for the characters and the relationships.
While the always-reliable Chris Pine is marvelous as Edgin Darvis, filmmakers Johnathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley really understood the assignment when they cast Regé-Jean Page as Xenk Yendar and Michelle Rodriguez as Holga Kilgore. Both Rodriguez and Page understand how to use their characters’ dry humor against Pine. There are plenty of moments where Rodriguez says something so dry that it makes no sense, and yet, it’s hilarious because the delivery simply works for a barbarian. The same is true of Page, who gets to play straight man to the rest of the group. It’s a balance that the film knows how to handle well.
Honor Among Thieves takes a few liberties with its source material – especially with Pine’s character. Edgin Darvis who is a bard and never uses any spells. It’s a weird change and I don’t know if it was necessary, as it makes Darvis, armed with a lute, useless in battle sequences. The film also has pacing issues, and spends a little too much time early on in Exposition 101. Honestly, though, these flaws are easy to forgive it because of how much fun the whole thing is. How often has your Dungeon Master spent twenty minutes explaining something in the actual game because you rolled well? And how often have you spent sessions doing anything but the main quest? I lost track of the number of times during this movie that I caught myself leaning in and whispering the spells appearing on screen or again when a monster showed up. And that is the film’s strength – it gives me the same feeling that I get when I play the game with friends.
For those who’ve never played a second of the game, or who have absolutely no prior knowledge of it, Honor Among Thieves is still set up to be enjoyable. It is made for both audiences. True, you might not understand why part of the audience gets so excited when a chest becomes animated and tries to kill someone. But that’s okay; this film never tries to be for just one demographic. Instead of using the lore and the creatures of the game and going into an original story without touching on the meta, it balances the stupid of D&D – especially formulating a plan that won’t work and being forced to improvise – with the storytelling aspect that every player loves. It isn’t perfect, but it is also exactly what a D&D movie should be.