This preliminary spoiler-free tackle Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Amongst Thieves comes from the film’s debut on the 2023 SXSW Convention. We’ll have extra in-depth protection because the film’s launch date approaches.
We’re dwelling in a brand new golden age for fantasy motion pictures and reveals. Gone is the time when epic fantasy adventures got low budgets that crippled manufacturing, or scripts that confirmed open disdain for the style. Now, elves, dragons, and magic are as massive part of the popular culture zeitgeist as sitcoms had been within the ’90s. And but, because of the massive success of Recreation of Thrones, fantasy reveals and flicks are often darkish and bleak, each in tone and in visuals. That’s simply one in every of many the reason why the film Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Amongst Thieves is such a shock to the system: It’s an try to show that we’re lastly able to embrace the enjoyable, chaos, and full-on weirdness of the fantasy style.
What makes Dungeons & Dragons distinctive as a recreation is the best way the system works as an enormous sandbox. No two video games are the identical, though gamers are utilizing so lots of the identical instruments. The brand new film, from John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, based mostly on a script written by Daley, Goldstein, and Michael Gilio, seems like an invite to take a seat on the most recent session in a marketing campaign they’ve been operating for years.
It’s like watching an episode of Important Function and realizing the group hasn’t simply crafted story out of the blue, they had been enjoying collectively for a very long time even earlier than the cameras rolled. Even earlier than Honor Amongst Thieves’ bard Edgin (Chris Pine) tells a narrative about his background so the viewers can perceive his motivation (his precise phrases), and we see his previous adventures with many of the different characters, the film seems like the most recent chapter in a really lengthy and complex story.
That is what the most effective tales do: They invite you into an expansive, intricate world that feels prefer it existed lengthy earlier than these characters entered the story, and much past this specific journey. Honor Amongst Thieves aces that worldbuilding. It name-drops a number of key D&D places, like Baldur’s Gate and Waterdeep. However the actual sense of connection for followers of the sport is available in the best way the movie makes use of actual units and places to convey the grandeur and dimension of the world, and populates them with a ton of characters and background sights, from ruins to historic monuments. In a manner, the strategy feels much like James Cameron’s unique Avatar, which tells a reasonably easy, uncomplicated, typically predictable story, so Cameron can concentrate on constructing an enormous world with out overwhelming the viewers.
In Honor Amongst Thieves, that strategy pays off. The story of a bunch of misfits occurring a quest to discover a magical artifact to be able to pull off a heist isn’t very advanced, and it’s typically predictable. But it surely’s efficient and to the purpose, designed to let the characters and the world converse for themselves.
For viewers who’ve by no means performed Dungeons & Dragons, the film’s world received’t be more durable to wrap your head round than Westeros or Center-earth, other than all of the creatures and cultures, from dragon folks to lizard folks to cat folks. (The Tabaxi on this movie rule.) There’s a equally massive number of creatures, like owlbears and mimics. The movie employs loads of sensible creature results that look unbelievable, although at instances, the CGI touch-ups don’t mix in addition to they might. It’s a testomony to the writers’ belief within the viewers that they don’t overexplain how issues work on this world, whether or not it’s the magic, the characters’ skills, factions just like the Harpers or the Emerald Enclave, or the anachronistic know-how that places this film nearer to Willow or The Princess Bride than Lord of the Rings.
However the variations between Dungeons & Dragons and different fantasy franchises is the candy spot the place Honor Amongst Thieves actually shines. That begins with the movie’s portrayal of magic, which is not like the rest on TV or movie. There are not any wizards waving their wands, taking pictures CGI rays of sunshine round. As a substitute, they want bodily substances, gestures, phrases, and even focus to solid every kind of spells, easy and sophisticated. The film makes it very clear that there are limitations to magic — simply masking a sorcerer’s mouth stops them from casting spells, as an illustration.
As cool because the magic is, nonetheless, Daley and Goldstein be certain that each member of the primary celebration will get a second to point out off their class expertise, from the barbarian Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) raging and kicking everybody’s ass in stunningly choreographed motion sequences to Pine’s bard motivating his teammates to perform their objectives. The standout, nonetheless, is Sophia Lillis’ tiefling druid Doric, who steals the stage along with her use of Wild Form within the film’s greatest sequence, a single-shot escape by means of a fort that showcases totally different creatures and proves that druids are the most effective class. (Combat me.)
Arguably no character seems like they arrive straight from a gaming session as a lot because the paladin Xenk (Regé-Jean Web page). He’s this film’s tackle Jesse Plemons’ character from Recreation Evening, an extremely critical character surrounded by foolish doofuses. He additionally seems like that one older participant who joins a desk of newbies with an OP character they’ve been enjoying for years and who takes the sport super-seriously, refusing to interrupt character and always reminding you they “don’t tolerate colloquialisms.”
For followers of the sport, or any of its tons of of spinoff merchandise, it’s a real pleasure to see these dynamics play out recognizably on the display screen with out disgrace, to see identified places realized in such lavish element, and to see this world populated by the creatures that make D&D such a novel franchise. (The mind devourer is a scene-stealer.) The film additionally does an important job of capturing the totally different tones gamers may expertise in their very own campaigns, from horror to campy enjoyable, and from epic excessive fantasy to an exciting heist.
That final level is essential to the success of the film, which juggles a number of tones and genres whereas all the time remaining playfully earnest. The characters are always failing in fights and puzzles. It’s a hoot and a riot to see them be whole goofs, but in addition a triumph once they lastly succeed. There’s no embarrassment in regards to the fantasy components or their origins right here, and no try to cover or undercut the nerd stuff with sarcastic, dismissive feedback. Nobody mocks one another’s names or expertise. The looks of a displacer beast or a gelatinous dice doesn’t elicit quips about them being ridiculous creatures: They’re simply handled as harmful.
The movie is playful and earnest all through, specializing in the truth that for the characters, these are critical conditions. Rodriguez’s barbarian continues to be reeling from a damaged relationship, and when her storyline pays off, it’s hilarious — however the viewers continues to be invited to really feel and empathize along with her ache. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Amongst Thieves doesn’t re-create recreation mechanics or a way of improvisation in addition to, say, The Legend of Vox Machina, however it’s the greatest Dungeons & Dragons film we might have hoped for. Not solely is it a enjoyable fantasy film, it’s an important adaptation of a gaming session. And it’s an invite into a brand new and extra visible model of a world devoted gamers already love — and that the filmmakers appear to like, too.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Amongst Thieves will premiere in theaters on March 31.