When the first trailer for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves dropped in July of last year, I insisted to my friends that the film would be good solely because of its inclusion of a single monster: the gelatinous cube. The gelatinous cube is one of the sillier monsters in D&D’s compendium: it’s a five foot cube of sentient murder Jello that likes to engulf characters and dissolve them slowly, and will split into smaller, equally murderous cubes if attacked with physical weapons. It’s the epitome of the 90’s Jello commercial with the “Eat it before it eats you” tagline. And it has absolutely slaughtered unwary adventurers before. Any movie that can poke fun at the inherent silliness of the concept of the gelatinous cube while still fully appreciating the threat one can pose, I argued, would be a good movie.
Pick up the phone, readers, because I called it.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, or D&D for short here, is an absolute delight of a fantasy romp. Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez make a fantastic bard and fighter pair, who were betrayed during a heist by Hugh Grant’s charismatic rogue and are out to right some wrongs and get a little revenge along the way, along with Justice Smith’s self-conscious sorcerer and Sophia Lillis’ ill-socialized powerhouse of a druid. (I would be remiss not to mention Rege-Jean Page’s paladin, who wound up being my favorite character in the movie, though he’s in a class of his own.) The chemistry between the cast is absolutely electric, and the progression of their individual arcs feels natural, effortlessly woven into the narrative and well-used down the line. The story is tight, the effects (a mix of practical, puppetry, and CG) are a visual feast and very much fit this sort of fantasy storytelling, and the pacing moves along at a nice clip, leaving room for touching moments or wild action scenes as each is needed. D&D is 2.5 hours and never once drags, which is something of a feat for a movie of that length.
Anyone who plays Dungeons & Dragons or has a passing familiarity with how it works will recognize the structure of D&D: an overarching quest laid out, multiple locations with puzzles to be solved and threats to overcome in order to progress, rollicking successes and hilarious failures, and the character backstories used to great effect to direct the flow of the narrative. Those with particularly deep knowledge of the lore or mechanics will recognize place and character names, particular monsters (including our friend the gelatinous cube, well-used in a way I’m sure someone will try to imitate in their home game, likely with varying levels of success), and spells, and might just be grinning like a maniac when the druid wildshapes into an owlbear or counting remaining questions in a Speak With Dead spell. There are also references to previous D&D properties for the cunning eye, to the point where I’d recommend watching the movie once for the plot and again for a game of “spot the easter egg.”
That said, people who’ve never rolled a twenty-sided die in their life will also find something for them, provided they’re in the mood for a fantasy epic. The heart of the tale is a father attempting to reunite with his daughter and get back what he’s lost; there’s dark magic, villains who absolutely chew the scenery, monsters to fight and marvel at, and a sharp, personable sense of humor, most of which is derived from characters’ relations to one another and that fantastic chemistry, to tie it all together.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves takes the magic of a tabletop gaming session to the big screen in the best of ways, with a sprawling but directed plot, quick pacing, and the easy camaraderie and ridiculous running jokes that the best of players experience at the best of tables. If you’re a fan of the game, of fantasy in general, or if you just want to see a good story unfold, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves comes to theaters on March 31st.
— Katie Cullen