A D&D film seems like such a no brainer that I find it hard to believe that it took this long to actually put a decent one together. Fantasy films have always been scifi's less popular sister but audiences will flock to a well-known property like Lord of the Rings and the D&D brand has seemingly perennial appeal.
The last time they tried a big budget D&D film was 23 years ago - and that bloated and ill-fashioned blob turned out to be bit of a disaster for everyone. Happily, D&D Honor Among Thieves avoids all of the bad choices that plagued its predecessor while leaning into to what makes D&D such a fun experience.
There are two ways a fantasy film can go - Big and Majestic, or Capital-S Silly. The Lord of the Rings films are filled with Big and Majestic people doing Big and Majestic things. Those films managed to pull it off but it is a very tight needle to thread. The prequel LotR: The Rings of Power series aimed for Big and Majestic and hit Long and Quite Tedious instead.
The producers of Honor Among Thieves wisely knew that D&D doesn't really trade in sensible stories and just packed as much craziness as they could into 2¼ hours. Anyone who has played a role-playing game knows that even the most serious plot gets totally derailed as soon as the players start messing things up, so D&D:HAT is filled with the sort of side quests, disasters, crazy heists, and ridiculous fights that could have easily sprung from the minds of a group of 14 year old nerds.
I was particularly enamored with the way the film deliberately features some of the stupider D&D troupes. Let me count them (slight spoilers):
- The party gets hired by powerful NPC who betrays them...
- ... with the cooperation of one of the party
- An Owlbear - the second stupidest entry in the D&D Monster Manual
- Displacer Beasts - the third stupidest monsters but very well realized on screen
- A trap involving a complex mathematical solution that the characters completely cheat their way around
- An incredibly powerful NPC that joins them for a while before leaving them complete the quest for no real reason
- The perfect magic item just falling into the hands of the party at the right time
- A needlessly elaborate tournament
- A Gelatinous Cube - D&D's stupidest monster
- Generally having a plot that is just an excuse for set pieces.
My one disappointment is that at no point is there a door that asks the players a riddle - they must be saving that one for the sequel.
Gladly, some of the more juvenile D&D tropes are avoided - there is not a scantily clad elf princess in sight and the barbarian warrior woman is actually wearing armor that actually covers the vital organs as well as erogenous zones.
The cast is much better than it needs to be, their characters pop off the screen with witty dialog. There is an emotional core to the film but it is almost completely (and wisely) ignored; the occasional emotional scenes are given a light touch and the whole thing gels together into a very entertaining and satisfying gallimaufry.