Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves is the only film that’s had me genuinely excited for its release for a fair while, partly because I feel I have a stake in the film for some strange reason. It’s solely based on the fact that I’ve been a fan of D&D for almost a decade, I run my own games/campaigns, and am an active player and consumer of the products. Most films of the last year (big box office draws like Avatar 2), at most, garnered a response of “Oh yeah, go on then” from me when it came to my decision to see them in the cinema. But with the upcoming D&D movie, I’ve already confirmed to see it, at the time of writing, four times! Once with family, once with friends, once with my D&D group, and a solo trip just for myself.
The eOne/Paramount backed film is a reboot of the tabletop-game’s previous venture into the world of film, drawing people’s memories back to the critical failure and box-office bomb of a film that was Dungeons and Dragons, released in 2000 and starring the likes of Marlon Wayans and Jeremy Irons. At least the cast of that movie matched the “motley crew” aesthetic of most D&D adventuring parties. But hope seems to lie ahead
for the movie releasing at the end of March, with early reviews citing it as an accurate depiction of the in-game atmosphere, with elements of comedy, tonal seriousness, and high stakes. Seeing it score “100%” on Rotten Tomatoes, and have a consistent score of 7/10 across different reviews gives me hope!
In the twenty-three-year time period since the initial film’s release, the game has achieved an exponential growth in popularity, partly due to its featuring in television shows like Community and Stranger Things, but also in large part to the boom in online streaming 'actual-plays', shows where people play D&D online and stream their sessions to audiences around the world. Largely popular web series within the community like Critical Role, Dimension 20, High-Rollers, and smaller/burgeoning series like DesiQuest are giving audiences all over the world, from different backgrounds (with regards to race, gender and sexuality) access to the game. They are showing how anyone from anywhere is welcome within the tabletop-gaming space, and that its newer ventures into the world of film are following this same principle . Roleplaying allows the cohesion between your true self and your character; you live your best fantasy life as the high-elf cleric, while also being accepting of people from different ethnicities, genders, and sexualities. There is a rule at most tables and it’s simple: D.B.A.D.
2023 has already been an eventful year for Dungeons and Dragons, and their parent companies Wizards of the Coast, and the big head-honcho, the dreaded monster at the end of the dungeon-crawl known as Hasbro. The OGL (Open Gaming License) debacle saw the higher-ups in charge of the game seek to revoke/replace the existing, beloved licence that allowed people to write their own third-party content for the game and publish it, everything from adventure modules, to world-guides and bestiaries. With the company threatening to cut the legs of third-party developers and publishers from under them, people rebelled and raised their voices. The higher-ups eventually backtracked following a mass boycott of their online platform D&D Beyond, and public outcry across social media. It’s funny that the creators of a game where heroes band together to defeat a larger threat against their way of life didn’t expect this response from their players/consumers…
But back to Honour Among Thieves then. Shall we?
The cast is star-studded with the likes of Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Rege-Jean Page and Hugh bloody Grant (not his actual middle name) taking starring roles alongside well-established stars of recent years, like Justice Smith and Sophia Lillis. Grant has gone on the record, last year at San Diego Comic Con, to say that he has experience as a Dungeon Master… just not the kind of “dungeon” the game is known for. This was all said in jest, of course. At least I think it was…
The film’s plot has been alluded to in various press junkets and trailers in the past year. It boils down to a simple premise: “We’re a team of thieves [...] we helped the wrong person steal the wrong thing”, unleashing the greatest evil in the world. It’s their job to fix the problem they caused in the first place, a plot that is very befitting of the common D&D campaign experience.
The adventuring party consists of a Bard (Pine), Sorcerer (Smith), Paladin (Page), Barbarian (Rodriguez) and Druid (Lillis), with Grant playing a tricksy rogue. Overall, the party composition is well balanced, barring the distinct lack of a healer within the group, which (in my experience) always causes some trouble. But it appears as though the cast are well aware of this, following their experience of playing D&D together prior to filming, where they played the characters they portray in the movie, with the tabletop game being helmed by the movie's directors, Jonathan Goldstein, and John Francis Daley. Oh, to be a fly on the wall during that game!
The adventuring party takes on The Red Wizards of Thay, a group of necromancy-wielding cultists, ruffians, and general magical ne’er-do-wells by most peoples standards. It will certainly be interesting to see how much of the source material the film sticks to, as the Red Wizards made their first appearances in the world of D&D back in the game’s second edition in the 1980s. That being said, everything needs an update or touch up every now and then.
Needless to say, the film has already achieved positive reviews in early press-screenings, with the 2000 film paling in comparison when it comes to production value and actual narrative substance. However, reports in the months leading up to the film’s release suggested there would be no “meta” elements to the film, meaning not mention of dice rolls, or a world (the real world) outside of the film’s narrative. At first this was somewhat disappointing to hear, as I had envisioned an end-credit scene where the cast, or a group of teenagers playing out the movie’s narrative in their tabletop game would pack away their things and cap the whole experience off with a quip, something along the lines of a “same time next week?” perhaps.
We’ll just have to see how the film’s release and its success plays out when it releases on March 31st. Let’s hope it’s not another repeat of the game’s previous filmic failures.
Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves releases 31st March, 2023
Edited by Barney Nuttall, Film and TV Deputy Editor