This weekend “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” opens nationwide. And with it, countless viewers who have never played the tabletop role-playing game, first published back in 1974, will be introduced to a fantastical world full of magical creatures, dangerous dungeons and daring wizards.
Chris Pine stars as a bard and former spy who gets together with some other thieves (among them: Michelle Rodriguez, Justice Smith and Sophia Lillis) to exact some delicious revenge on a former partner (Hugh Grant). The movie debuted at Austin’s South by Southwest Film Festival to a rapturous response and the reviews from critics since have been just as strong.
But the question remains: can someone who has never rolled a five-sided dice get as big a kick out of “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” as a level-five mage? Read on to find out:
How dorky is “Dungeons & Dragons” anyway?
It’s pretty dorky. The movie has a lovable Renaissance Fair aesthetic and a smart script by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley and Michael Gilio; there are plenty of references to the original game and its litany of characters and lore, plus a ton of monsters (some created in the computer and others made with the rubbery charm of something like Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth”). In fact, the dialogue is laced with shoutouts that only the most advanced player will comprehend.
But is this an issue?
The dialogue is delivered with an accessibly contemporary style and you get the sensation that, no matter how many items or spells the dialogue references, that it doesn’t totally matter. You can always track the action and the motivation of the main characters. The story never gets bogged down in unnecessary lore, knotty backstories or cumbersome mythology. Part of the fun is watching Chris Pine, who feels committed but also aloof, go through these outrageous, mythical scenarios, more annoyed by the supernatural occurrences than engaged by them. A close comparison would probably be Kurt Russell’s Jack Burton in “Big Trouble in Little China.” (Comparisons can also be drawn to “The Princess Bride.”) Sure, he’s swept up in this crazy nonsense. But he couldn’t be more put-out about it either. It’s a hoot.
Is the game aspect of “Dungeons & Dragons” ever brought up?
Not really. Although you’re not wrong to assume this. After all, Goldstein and Daley’s last movie as directors was 2018’s impeccable studio comedy “Game Night.” And using the framework of a board game makes sense, especially in our post-“Jumanji” world. But aside from some oblique references (including a great visual gag towards the end), there is never the idea that the characters in the movie are being controlled or commanded by unseen players. To do that would somehow minimize the adventure. And this adventure is big.
If you’re a non-gamer, would this compel you to pick up a board, grab your friends and begin your quest?
Not really. Which is probably for the best. You have enough hobbies already, don’t you?
What about longing for a sequel?
Oh definitely. While the references to other parts of “D&D” lore never slow down the storytelling or confuses the viewer, it does make you imagine that the world of “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is way bigger and more complicated than one movie could contain. With any luck, this movie becomes the springboard for a whole suite of movies and spinoffs. But as with any movie, its success or failure is a roll of the dice.
“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is in theaters now.