Movie Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Generally my attitude when seeing movies is that I do not tend to go to the theater unless I am pretty sure that I will enjoy the film, and despite some mixed accounts of the film before I saw it, I have to say that in general this film is an enjoyable one, not least because I have a fair bit of context in watching it. Yet in watching this film I wonder who exactly it was made for. It is not that this film cannot be enjoyed by a large amount of people, but rather, is the audience it is made for large enough to make this film successful enough to start a franchise? I am not sure about whether that is the case. Again, this film is enjoyable, but is it the sort of film that tens of millions of people in the United States, and more around the world, are going to want to see, or enough that at least millions of people are going to want to see multiple times? Again, I’m not sure whether that is the case. Without spoiling the film, there were a few things about this film that if they did not ruin my enjoyment, they certainly made me question what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish here. In seeking to make a film for everyone, they may not have made a film that is sufficiently for anyone.

Before this film was released, one of the negative advance warnings that was given about the film was the way it apparently suffered from misandry in its approach. This is something I take very seriously, and yet when I watched the film, I found that the film itself was guilty of nothing more than simply portraying among its heroes (and villains) men and women who have the contemporary approach, and in neither case is that entirely appealing. This film does not present the way things are–in a fantasy world based on the Sword Coast scene of the basic Wizards of the Coast D&D world–as being an ideal, but take it for granted as the basis for the film. The cast does an excellent job–Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, and Hugh Grant are clearly enjoying themselves here and they take their work seriously enough that the film began with a disconcerting thanks from the cast of the movie to audiences as being the real heroes of the film for having come to the movies to watch it.

Yet that tone made me feel even more uncomfortable about the jarring tensions of this film. It is an enjoyable one to watch, and even more so if you are someone who (like me) has spent quite a few hours engaged in D&D campaigns seeking to obtain relics, solve mysteries, and stay alive in a dangerous world. There are a lot of inside jokes and references that are likely to appeal to those who like me have read and played in this world a fair amount, but how many people will have that context? This is a film that in many ways wants to have it both ways. It wants to have witty characters who approach everything with an attitude of irony and wit, but at the same time the movie strives for genuine emotional depth, especially regarding issues of life and death, love and relationships (including that between family members), as well as the idea of redemption and overcoming prejudices and one’s own previous failures. Yet these serious emotions are often undercut by the habitual irony of the movie and its characters.

In many ways, this film resembles John Wick 4. For example, the heroes and major villains are just about the only characters who matter and who stay alive long enough to leave an impression. The rest are mere NPCs that get wiped out like the random enemies on a campaign that are only fit for giving loot and experience. Similarly, the characters are outcasts from society who find a great deal of purpose and meaning and comfort in their lives by the artificial family they have made with each other, but their actions are deemed as praiseworthy because they are ultimately in service of larger legitimate authorities and a society that they are nevertheless estranged from. Whether this ambivalence is something that will resonate with viewers or something that will leave people feeling a bit uncomfortable is not something I know for sure, but rather something each viewer of this film–or each person deciding whether or not to see it–will have to decide for itself. If this film succeeds well enough, there are plans to make a franchise out of this movie, but can it overcome its irony enough to achieve genuine emotional depth in the way that the John Wick franchise did? I suppose we will have to wait and see.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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