Honor Among Thieves–Eagerly awaited Dungeons & Dragons movie now streaming

Review by C.J. Bunce

The long-awaited Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves has finally arrived at home, via Paramount+.  If you’ve been waiting for it, you’re in for a fantasy story that hits all the marks, as a small, noble(ish) band of adventurers journey to seek a talisman that can restore the life of one of the band’s family members.  For anyone that saw the movie trailers, you’ll be happy to see that plenty of good stuff was left for the movie.  Peppered with all sorts of throwbacks to the world of Dungeons & Dragons, from places and characters to beasts and fantastical races, you, too will count it high on your list of best fantasy movies.

The story begins with Chris Pine’s character Edgin, a Harper jailed with long-time friend Holga, a barbarian played by Michelle Rodriguez, as he tries to negotiate with a tribunal for his early release.  He recounts his past backstory–a mechanism employed a few times in the movie–in a way that feels like a Dungeon Master setting the scene for your weekly game play.  The story has everything except an actual dice roll.  Hugh Grant is Forge, a member of the band who betrays the team when one of the Red Wizards of Thay gets his ear–Sophina, played by Daisy Head–Wormtongue style.  Forge takes Edgin’s daughter Kira (played by Chloe Coleman) and raises her as his daughter, as Sophina plans a devastating event for the people of Neverwinter, during a return of the deadly High Sun Games.

After a jailbreak, Edgin and Holga track down their friend the sorcerer, Justice Smith’s Simon, who realizes that they need a certain helm, the Helmet of Dysfunction, and he employs the help of a Wild Shape played by Sophia Lillis (who he previously courted), and one more player, Xenk Yendar, a Paladin defector from the Thay, played by Regé-Jean Page.

The fantasy imagery is impressive, from locations that could have been plucked out of The Lord of the Rings or A Knight’s Tale, or Ella Enchanted.  The script is clean and sharp, with lots of wit and a surprise twist ending along with a satisfying climax to the story.  The soundtrack features the same kind of Renaissance Faire medieval music with flutes and guitars, like in A Knight’s Tale, mixed in with big, action sequences accompanied by synth techno funk sounds like you’d hear from Daft Punk in Tron: Legacy, and horror threads like in Stranger Things, all from composer Lorne Balfe (The Dark Knight, Tetris, His Dark Materials, Ambulance, Terminator: Genisys).  It’s the kind of soundtrack you’ll probably want to listen to over and over.

The casting and costumes are spot on.  Everyone looks like they were pulled from the artwork in one of the Dungeons & Dragons volumes, even including overhead map angles from cinematographer Barry Peterson (The LEGO Movie, 21 Jump Street).  He films this like a superhero movie–with stances from the Avengers movies and 360-shots in a few places.  From the Mimic pulled from Dungeon Mayhem, to the Owlbear from Icewind Dale, the Gelatinous Cube and Displacer Beast straight from the Monster Manual, and the giant dragon named Themberchaud from the exploits of Drizzt Do’urden, and an appearance (Poseidon Adventure passersby-style) from the stars of the classic D&D animated series, Bobby, Hank, Eric, Presto, Sheila, and Diana, there are Easter eggs galore here.

Each of the merry band gets showcased with their own character arcs: Edgin with his daughter, Doric’s great shapeshifting, especially when using a painting with Simon’s portal, Xenk plays the perfectly styled Lawful Good hero, and Holga gets a few big scenes where she punches out the entire room, Conan style.  The best scene was teased in the trailers, but is much bigger in context, as the team must tap Holga’s dead ancestors to learn the whereabouts of the Helm.  Forge and Sophina make great villains.  The maze battle in the Colosseum and several chase scenes put this among the year’s best action movies.

Where does Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves fall in the realm of fantasy movies?  It has the heart and well-drawn story like that in A Knight’s Tale and The Dark Crystal, the action of The Huntsman: Winter’s War, a roving band like in The Wizard of Oz, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and Willow, and fantastic non-human species (both CG and makeups) as detailed and believable as those designed for Peter Jackson’s Tolkien movies.

Because of Chris Pine cast in the lead role, the winter prison and costumes for the actors reminded me of Rura Penthe, the prison planet in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which saw Captain Kirk in prison in similar garb.  Seeing Pine, who played Kirk now in three movies as a parallel version of the character, conjured what Pine would look like were they to continue Pine’s crew of actors in future Star Trek movies.  Also, seeing Michelle Rodriguez masterfully play this barbarian as her own take on Red Sonja, was exciting to watch, too–just as exciting, or maybe more so, than if Dwayne Johnson or Dave Bautista would have been cast in the role by another director.

As great a payoff as anyone could have hoped for, with fun callbacks to D&D and an adventure full of action, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is now streaming on Paramount+.

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