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Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves reveals what modern fantasy is missing

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is far better than it has any right to be. The film, which counts Chris Pine, Hugh Grant, and Michelle Rodriguez among its stars, is Hollywood’s latest attempt to profit off the popularity of the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop roleplaying game. The industry’s previous attempts to do so went famously poorly. Fortunately, Honor Among Thieves isn’t just a marked improvement on the previous Dungeons & Dragons movies, but it’s also a genuinely fun adventure film that has more heart in it than most other blockbusters that are released nowadays.

Part of the film’s charm is its lighthearted, straightforward comedic tone. From the moment it begins, Honor Among Thieves doesn’t take itself too seriously. While it features more than its fair share of exposition and world-building, too, the film doesn’t ever get too bogged down in setting up the “seriousness” of its fantasy world. Instead, Honor Among Thieves focuses all of its efforts on telling a fantasy adventure story that is, above all else, infectiously fun.

In doing so, the film reveals the one thing that’s been missing from so many of the live-action fantasy movies and TV shows that Hollywood has produced in recent years.

Escaping the shadow of Game of Thrones

Simon, Edgin, Doric, and Holga stand in the Underdark together in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.
Aidan Monaghan/Paramount Pictures / Paramount Pictures

When Game of Thrones originally came along in 2011, the series offered a kind of live-action fantasy story that viewers had never quite seen before. Its commitment to exploring a world rampant with sex, violence, and treachery made Thrones feel refreshing and engaging at the same time. Twelve years later, however, the series’ dark spin on the fantasy genre has begun to feel stale, and that’s largely due to all the subpar imitations that have followed it.

From The Witcher and The Sandman to even The Wheel of Time, TV viewers have been bombarded in recent years with fantasy TV shows that have tried to recapture the same kind of edgy darkness and occasional brutality that partly defined Game of Thrones. Even the first season of Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, which has moments of fantasy levity rarely found in many of its fellow contemporary fantasy TV titles, is often weighed down by its own grandiose sense of importance.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves doesn’t boast the same self-importance as Rings of Power. That’s partly what makes it so great, too. The film doesn’t just exist in a completely different tonal space than many of its contemporaries, but it also highlights the elements of whimsy, fun, and camaraderie that once made the fantasy genre so appealing in the first place.

Making fantasy fun again

A reanimated corpse looks at Chris Pine's Edgin in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.
Paramount Pictures

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is, to put it simply, a good time. The film is essentially structured like a heist movie, which gives its characters the chance to explore different parts of Honor Among Thieves’ fantasy world while always moving closer and closer to their end goal. Along the way, the film’s characters cast more spells than they know what to do with, talk to reanimated corpses, fight a truly overweight dragon, participate in a deadly batch of arena games, and go head-to-head with a powerful red wizard. The film, in other words, doesn’t shy away from its fantasy elements.

Honor Among Thieves is practically overflowing with more magic spells and fantastic creatures than most fantasy TV shows of the past few years. By freeing itself of any obligation it might have had to overexplain every one of its magical moments, the film keeps the whimsy of its fantasy world alive and well. Even more importantly, the film focuses on the same theme that is at the center of many of the greatest fantasy series in history: the power of friendship.

A new fellowship

Aidan Monaghan/Paramount Pictures / Paramount Pictures

The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films feature plenty of dark moments, but part of what makes those movies so enduringly great is that they never forget the friendships at the center of their stories. Those films never lose sight of the fact that the love shared by the members of a found family has been a core ingredient of the fantasy genre since its inception. Unlike so many of the Game of Thrones rip-offs that have recently preceded it, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves doesn’t forget that, either.

Even if it doesn’t take itself seriously, the film clearly loves and believes in its characters. It takes the necessary time to not only establish the bonds that connect them but also challenge and deepen them. By the time Honor Among Thieves has come to an end, its core group of heroes has evolved into a genuinely lovable and interesting adventuring party. As a result, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves both honors one of the most important aspects of the tabletop game that inspired it and reminds viewers of what once made fantasy stories so compelling in the first place.

To put that another way: Not every fantasy story has to be about the blood and guts that are spilled or the sex that’s had along the way. Sometimes, they can be about the jokes that are told and the songs that are sung by a group of friends working toward a common goal.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is now playing in theaters.

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Alex Welch
Alex Welch is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
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