Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a masterpiece that not enough people have seen, largely due to its unfortunate marketing. Every trailer that was released for this movie made it seem so generic and unfunny, which this movie could not be more the opposite. Instead, what we got was a surprisingly sensitive big-budget blockbuster that is wholly original while still being steeped in the source material with which it was created.
Against a $150 million budget, this movie only made $93 million domestically and $208 million worldwide, making this a huge flop. Even though this movie still managed to score a 91% score from critics and a 93% score from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, it still managed to flop. These are 10 reasons why Dungeons & Dragons is actually an underappreciated triumph, the best movie of the year so far, and deserves to be seen by so many more.
10 Funniest Movie of the Year
This hilarious script is from the minds of the guys who wrote and directed the hilarious 2018 comedy Game Night and the 2017 Spider-Man: Homecoming, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein knock it out of the park once again. With so many jokes that are operating at the writer’s highest intelligence and with the assumption that the watching audience will meet them at the top. This movie does not talk down to the audience and does not have back-to-back quips every thirty seconds in order to undercut the sincerity.
The audience is never a step ahead of the movie, rather following along with this very earnestly funny heist movie. Its sincere tone is also what sets this movie apart from other blockbusters that are made today, as, so many feel like soulless, low-hanging fruit, cash grabs that feel like genuine effort was put into writing the jokes.
9 Great Action
In a world where most modern blockbusters feel like cartoons because there is so much CGI that everything feels incredibly muddled, Honor Among Thieves is unique in that so much of the action is shot practically. This movie gives everything so much weight with its mix of practical and CGI effects, accompanied by the well-choreographed John Wick-esque fight scenes. At the beginning of the movie, there is a fight between Michelle Rodriguez and some nameless guards that has her flipping them over her shoulder and punching them in the face into unconsciousness while Chris Pine stands aside, eventually knocking out one guy.
The action is also quite inventive, with it being shot mostly in long takes with hidden cuts using the CGI to aid them with their energetic action. The filmmakers also have a lot of fun making unique action with Sophia Lillis’ character Doric, who is a shape-shifter that can turn into any creature under the sun. Goldstein and Daley are clearly having so much fun with the tools they’ve been given to create ludicrously exciting action.
8 Chris Pine
Chris Pine stars as Edgin, a former Harper, who gave up his peacekeeping ways for a life of thieving after his wife was murdered by the Red Wizards. He is imprisoned for trying to get the Tablet of Reawakening in order to bring back his wife, leaving his daughter Kira behind for two years. Edgin spends the rest of the movie trying to be a better father to Kira and make up for lost time while still in pursuit of the Tablet so that he can bring back her mother, who was killed when she was a baby.
Pine pulls this off flawlessly with his inherent charm that gets the audience on his side from moment one, which would be difficult for most actors being that he’s playing a thief. Pine is so charismatic and is powerfully committed not only to the source material that is being played off of but to the comedy as well. Though this is not the first time we’ve seen him this committed to comedy, as he was Eric, the eccentric loner, in the hilarious Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp the prequel to the original movie.
7 Michelle Rodriguez
The beautifully talented Michelle Rodriguez co-leads this movie who plays the rough and tough Holga Kilgore, a barbarian who was cast out by her tribe for falling in love with an outsider, which ends up being Bradley Cooper in a hilarious cameo. She finds Edgin while the both of them are at rock bottom, her having just been cast out and his wife just having been murdered, the both of them drinking themselves to death. Until they discover the life of thieving, giving both of them a new purpose in life.
Holga also helps Edgin take care of Kira as well, acting as a surrogate mother, though neither of them is in love with each other. Another aspect that sets this movie apart is the platonic relationship between Pine and Rodriguez, the two of them are incredibly close, but they are not in love with one another. There is no forced romantic subplot in this movie, instead a meaningful relationship between two people of the opposite sex that is completely non-sexual.
6 Hugh Grant
Another incredible performance from the legendary Hugh Grant as he moves into the position of elder statesman character actor. Of course, he played a very similar role in the triumph that is Paddington 2 as the villainous Phoenix Buchanan. It is always exciting to see such a legendary actor move into a new phase of their career, from charming and handsome leading man to charming and handsome older character actor, who you call in when you need to bring some gravitas to either just that role or the movie as a whole. Grant has slid comfortably into the latter position after years of being in the former as the lead in movies like Notting Hill and Love Actually. He is chewing the scenery in this movie as the cowardly villain Forge, who wants nothing but money and only looks out for himself.
The most evil thing he does is take Kira, Edgin’s daughter, and tell her the reason why he was imprisoned was due to his own greed, when in reality Edgin was just trying to save Kira’s mother and his wife. A perfect casting choice to have Grant as the villain because of his charming leading man career makes the audience trust him at the beginning, which makes his heel turn so much more upsetting.
5 Setups and Payoffs
The movie is so intelligently written, with all of its setups and payoffs. What this means in simple terms is that there is something that happens at the beginning of the movie that is then paid off or comes back in some form later on. This could also happen on a scene-to-scene basis, both of which this movie has in spades. The perfect example of this is when Xenk, played by the wonderful Regé-Jean Page, forces Edgin to promise to give the treasure back to the people that Forge stole. At the end of the movie, Edgin gets his daughter back from Forge and has all the treasure in his possession.
He is not going to give the treasure back until he realizes that the people of Neverwinter are about to face the same fate as Xenk’s people: being turned into an undead army by an evil Red Wizard, played by Daisy Head. In order to stop her, Edgin uses both the hither-thither staff (teleportation staff), that they had acquired earlier in the film, and Forge’s hot air balloon to drop the treasure along the streets to lead the people out of the city. Both the hither-thither staff and Forge’s hot air balloon, along with Edgin’s promise, are all things that were set up earlier in the movie and were used as part of the film’s resolution.
Everything that is introduced in this movie is for a reason, and returns in some way, and is used to portray character growth, showing how much thought was actually put into the script as opposed to so many other modern blockbusters.
4 Uses CGI to Aid Practical Effects
Most modern blockbusters use a majority of CGI effects to make everything feel like a two-and-half-hour cartoon with no real weight or stakes. Most of them don’t like to put in the effort to make sets any more or scout real locations to shoot on. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is a prime example of this, using StageCraft, the massive LED video walls that The Mandalorian, to render the entire quantum realm, making the movie feel hollow. When a movie is 98% CGI, nothing feels real, and it just doesn’t work.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves uses both sets and actual locations that make this deeply silly fantasy movie, which couldn’t be less grounded in our reality, have weight and feel like it has actual stakes. Just like the spectacular The Lord of the Rings trilogy, this movie strikes the perfect balance of practical and CGI effects. This makes the worlds that these movies are trying to create feel so alive and so clearly steeped in lore. This is also indicative of how much time and effort they wanted to put into the movie. Goldstein and Daley use practical makeup effects for characters that are only in one scene that rival the Star Wars Cantina scene, opening with Pine and Rodriguez getting a new cellmate.
The character is in one scene and used as throwaway joke, yet he is in full costume and makeup that probably took hours to put on the actor, whereas every other movie would go the lazy route and just make them completely CGI.
3 Energetic Filmmaking
Not since Top Gun: Maverick has there been a blockbuster teeming with so much life and energy. They were given a healthy $150 million budget for this movie where Game Night cost $37 million, a huge jump that for most would be incredibly overwhelming. Goldstein and Daley were instead supremely confident and brought along with them all the tricks that they had learned from their smaller movies, but on a much larger scale. Locking the camera off on an object centered in the frame, like when they have Doric rolling through the portal, is a practical trick that they also used in the car chases in Game Night.
They also bring back their use of “long takes” (with hidden cuts) with Doric as she shape-shifts her way out of Forge’s castle in Neverwinter after being caught by the Red Wizard. This same editing trick is used in Game Night when the characters have to keep away with the Fabergé egg in the mansion. These guys have a real style and flair in their filmmaking that feels uniquely engaging.
2 Wears its Heart on its Sleeve
Dungeons & Dragons is the rare blockbuster that feels incredibly personal and completely genuine. The movie is not being backed by a super producer that just wants another formulaic blockbuster that is guaranteed to make $1 billion and barely allows the director’s voice come through, even though they hired them for their directorial à la Kevin Feige. Honor Among Thieves was made by two auteurs who were given complete control over this movie when most production companies would not trust guys like them with a $150 million budget. Also, at the core of this movie is the platonic relationship between Edgin and Holga, two people who love each other in their own unique way, as well as how much they love Kira brings so much heart into this movie.
Furthermore, the tight bond that is developed between the main cast throughout out the movie, each of them learning how to use their different skills together to become the kickass team to stop the evil Red Wizard. They essentially defeat her using their friendship, which is cheesy, but there is nothing wrong with being cheesy as long as it is genuine and not just a way to make the audience cry.
1 Taking its Source Material Seriously, but Not too Seriously
Goldstein and Daley decided not to go the Marvel route of making fun of themselves and the source material before you can because they can’t take themselves seriously anymore. Instead, they take the source material extremely seriously and create comedy within the rules that they have set up and the world in which they have been allowed to play. The unfortunate effect of the Deadpool movies is that every main character in a comic book movie or just a general big-budget movie has to call out what is happening on screen. It is a form of winking at the audience to let them know that they are also in on the joke and understand how dumb everything is.
This movie does none of that; rather, you fully buy into this strange and unfamiliar world without over explaining and holding the audience’s hand, trusting that the audience will be able to follow along. Consequently, allowing room in the movie for more comedy, action, and character beats that in most movies, feel like an afterthought to setting up a 20-movie franchise. Dungeons & Dragons tells a stand-alone story that is in complete control of its tone and perfectly strikes the balance of being completely indebted to its source material while not diving off into the deep end.