If it all sounds like it’s more for fantasy gamers than “everyone,” well, it undeniably is. The film is filled with references to D&D—name drops like “Baldur’s Gate” and “Neverwinter” created audible responses during the premiere—but I wouldn’t go as far as to say the film won’t work at all for people who have never made a character for a campaign. Most of the references here will sound like depth for non-gamers who may see more parallels to products like “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Witcher” than their actual source. It’s a film that’s rich in fantasy terminology in a way that feels like its creators affectionately remember creating characters in their mom’s basement when they were young. That genuine interest in the lore of D&D may be enough for some people. But what about everyone else?
Affection for a source doesn’t always translate to execution in terms of craft, and the filmmaking here is shoddy. In terms of the flashes and bangs, “Honor Among Thieves” works much better when it focuses on practical effects (or at least ones that look practical—everything is CGI nowadays) and can find a tactile quality that the CGI-heavy sequences lack. When Edgin and his team are waking up corpses to get information, or Sofina is merely scowling in her malevolent makeup, the film is more grounded than when it’s drifting off in magic-driven sequences of people casting spells both willy and nilly. There’s also a lack of world-building in a movie that should be dense with it when it comes to design. Forge’s city looks like a generic fantasy video game setting, and the opportunity to craft interesting backdrops for these varied characters is rarely taken. It feels like a film that’s going to age poorly visually.
The cast is reasonably strong, with Pine leaning into the rough charisma I’ve always thought would have made him a massive star in the ‘60s. All of the cast was clearly chosen to play to their strengths, with Grant amplifying his smarm and Rodriguez kicking ass when needed. Relative newcomers Smith and Lillis are effective, too, with the former finding some vulnerability and the latter being consistently engaging as she uncertainly becomes a hero.
What’s most shocking about “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is how little meat there is on these reanimated bones, even with a bloated 139-minute runtime. When a cast of characters runs from plan A to plan B and back to plan A, the constant motion doesn’t allow for much else. Most of this film is “What we do now?” Again, that’s fun with friends, less so when you have no control over the answer.
This review was filed from the SXSW Film Festival. “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” opens on March 31, 2023.