Must every intellectual-property (IP) succumb to the Marvel formula?
If you like your characters bland, your dialogue snarky and your battles meaningless, then you'll love "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves," a movie that wants you to like it so bad, that it actually hurts.
Full disclosure: I'm a huge D&D nerd, having grown up spending countless hours playing the game with friends in our parents' basements. I'm an even bigger fan of the D&D setting "DragonLance," and have pretty much read every DragonLance book ever published. In my playing days, I was always the "Dungeon Master" or "DM"...to non-D&D folk, this means that I was the game-runner, or the narrator you could say. D&D and the DragonLance novels are hugely responsible for my growth as an adolescent...it was a safe-haven away from the realities of the outside world, where my creativity and imagination could expand endlessly, where I could truly achieve anything that I set my mind to.
My inherent love of Dungeons & Dragons has NOTHING to do with my disdain for this movie. In fact, much of what I ENJOYED about the movie CAME DIRECTLY from my knowledge of D&D, and not the other way around. There are lots of Easter Eggs, for example...references and characters that I'm guessing only D&D fans will pick up on. You definitely do not need to have any prior knowledge of anything remotely related to D&D in order to see "Honor Among Thieves"...but if you don't, I find it even harder to believe that you'll like it.
Whatever potential this Dungeons & Dragons franchise might have had going for it to become something that stands on its own, is all but disintegrated. It becomes clear early on that the filmmakers had no intention to try to differentiate this from any other recent franchise film. A diverse cast of main characters are assembled and they're pitted against a generic villain. Slap an existing IP on it (in this case, Dungeons & Dragons), add a few hundred million dollars in Effects and throw in some smarmy modern dialogue and - Poof! - you've magicked yourself up a blockbuster.
Edgin (Chris Pine) is a bard and a former thief, who along with his adventuring partner, the warrior Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), find themselves in a dingy dungeon being held prisoner. They were betrayed by a former companion, Forge (Hugh Grant), who went on to take Edgin's young daughter, Kira (Chloe Coleman), and raise her as his own. Their quest is quite straight-forward: They must escape and save Edgin's daughter. Edgin however, has a secret mission: To steal back an artifact in Forge's possession that may be able to bring his former wife - and Kira's mother - back to life.
Accompanying them on their journey is the druid Doric (Sophia Lillis) and the bumbling wanna-be wizard, Simon (Justice Smith), as well as a magical paladin, Xenk (Regé-Jean Page). Aligning with Forge is a powerful red wizard, Sofina (Daisy Head), who has a secret ambition of her own.
Their mission takes Edgin and company across a world full of fantasy, where they encounter beasts and situations too unspeakable to name.
"Honor Among Thieves" fancies itself a comedy, in that it doesn't seem to take itself too seriously. But that doesn't make it funny. There are a few, sparse memorable moments - perhaps a laugh here and there - but the tone is uneven throughout. The action is equally average. And we all know that Chris Pine is game for anything...capable as well. It's not his fault that he's been transported to Generic FantasyLand.
It takes nearly two-hours of this uninspired adventure before we reach a sequence that finally feels worthy of - or related to - D&D. The team is thrust to compete in a labyrinthian maze, against others, while various monsters and creatures (I see you Displacer Beast and Gelatinous Cube!) pursue them.
Blink and you'll miss my favorite Easter Egg of all, as the children from the animated 1980s "Dungeons & Dragons" cartoon can be seen as one of the competing teams. Now, a D&D movie adventure with those characters at the center? Oh man would that be awesome. At the point they pop up in this movie, I was hoping that the cameras would leave Edgin and crew behind and begin following these guys on their quest back to the real world instead.
But as quickly as it starts, the maze sequence ends, and left without any original ideas of their own, "Honor Among Thieves" goes right back to the attempted crowd-pleasing. The "climactic" end battle decides to legitimately "borrow" (or you could use the word "steal") directly from a few previous Marvel movies...I won't spoil, but a sequence where the heroes simultaneously battle the villain was lifted from "Infinity War" and "End Game," while a baddie getting pummeled into the ground by an OwlBear was a direct carbon-copy of Hulk smashing Loki around at the end of the original "Avengers" movie. It's hard to honor these thieves when they are being so blatant about it. We get it. You want desperately to be a Marvel movie. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I guess.
I would have preferred it though if "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" would have gone its own way...been it's own thing. I have this conversation a few times every year with other movie-lovers, but we deserve more. It's not that this movie is terrible, it's not. It's just that we deserve more.
If you're going to make a movie called "Dungeons & Dragons," you better at least take care of the fans that made you a thing in the first place. This movie has no bite, no wit, no real tie to anything that made that game and that franchise successful. Just call it "Honor Among Thieves" if you must. Why even attach the D&D label on it? Ahhhh, to make more money and exploit yet another existing IP. How silly of me to forget.
This is not the D&D movie that D&D fans have been waiting for, nor is this a good movie to bring people in to the world of D&D. That doesn't make "Honor Among Thieves" a bad movie. But that also doesn't make it a good movie.
Die-hard D&D fans will leave with a bad taste in their mouth, while average moviegoers will most likely accept the firehose-stream of popcorn entertainment being shot directly into their mouths. It may be fun to chew on for a bit, but there's nothing satisfying about being fed more of the same.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy.
Run Time: 2 hours and 14 minutes.
Starring: Chris Pine, Regé-Jean Page, Justice Smith, Michelle Rodriguez, Sophia Lillis, Hugh Grant, Chloe Coleman, Daisy Head, Spencer Wilding.
Written and Directed by John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein ("Game Night," "Vacation").
"Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" is in theaters on Friday, March 31st, 2023.
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