By Bryn Fawn
Wizard of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons tabletop roleplaying game has seen many iterations and has been beloved by fans of several generations, having been made in 1974. Gen Z and Millennials have taken a large interest in the game, to the extent that Paramount Pictures created a film based on the game.
“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” released March 31. To craft a film or story based on a franchise where the players make the story as they go along is no simple feat, which is why this movie feels more like a chapter of a much larger story with a broad cast of characters.
The movie follows the story of Edgin Darvis, played by Chris Pine, and Holga Kilgore, played by Michelle Rodriguez.
Darvis began his life as a paladin, a warrior gifted with divine magic and swears an oath, or a holy promise to a god. However, due to his hubris, he loses his wife and his home, breaking his oath by turning his back on his duty as a paladin. He becomes a humble bard instead and steals from those in power with excess wealth. He finds a family with his group of thieves and stresses that no one is to come to harm in their heists.
Darvis lives more comfortably, providing his daughter, Kira, a wonderful home and life as Kilgore assumes the mother-figure in his Kira’s life. Yet, one thing continues to gnaw away at Darvis: the loss of his wife. Darvis blames himself for the incident due to his greed and desire to provide more for his family.
The group of hapless heroes is soon approached by a mysterious woman cloaked in all black. She requests their help to steal from the Harpers, or the clan of paladins Darvis once belonged to. Darvis is hesitant at first, but once he learns of a tablet that can revive his wife, he agrees.
The heist doesn’t go as planned, not for Darvis and Kilgore, at least. They’re captured and imprisoned for two years, whereupon they’re given a council in an attempt to reduce or nullify their sentence. They burst through a window, using an Aarakocra, a bird-person, as a makeshift parachute, and their adventure begins.
Darvis and Kilgore find that Kira has been taken care of by their former partner-in-crime Forge Fitzwilliam, who is now a lord. Kira has everything she could ever want, but there is something brewing as that mysterious woman in black is still around, and it turns out she’s an incredibly powerful wizard.
Darvis and Kilgore then go off to locate their old partners, and form new bonds. Doric, a tiefling druid, and Simon Aumar, a sorcerer, join the party and round out the cast. Another powerful paladin, Xenk Yendar, joins briefly to help expand the world building on the Harpers and Kilgore’s clan.
The world building of this film is awe-inspiring. The world feels fleshed out and real, yet Dungeons & Dragons fans will easily notice the little easter-eggs and details of love like mentioning of monsters, spells and game mechanics the filmmakers left behind.
Knowing terminology, such as Aarakocra, may give away plot beats, but it only feels like the viewer is at the table, listening to the dungeon master, and witnessing the players formulate plans in their heads.
Furthermore, the movie uses an art form that has been recently cast to the wayside: practical effects. While it is noticeable that creatures such as the Tabaxi, cat-people, or Dragonborn are puppets, they feel alive. They feel as if they belong in the world of humans and magic and have for the entirety of their existence.
Practical effects have become less commonplace as computer based imaging, or animation, has boomed in popularity. CGI is cheaper than practical effects, and less “risky” as if a prop breaks, it needs to be remade. An animation error can be fixed from a computer, or things can be edited and changed post-production.
Hopefully “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” can begin to push other blockbuster movies to lean back into our roots of practical effects.
Despite the addition of practical effects for the non-human characters and creatures creatures, the main cast looks awfully human. Aumar is half elf, but the only change in his appearance is pointy ears. Doric is a Tiefling, but looks like a human woman with two stubby horns and a tail. Doric is the most startling for Dungeons & Dragons fans, as the base game sets guidelines for a Tiefling appearance.
The official Dungeon and Dragons’s wikipedia states online: “[Tieflings’] canine teeth are sharply pointed, and their eyes are solid colors—black, red, white, silver, or gold—with no visible sclera or pupil. Their skin tones cover the full range of human coloration, but also include various shades of red”
Doric has blue eyes, a fair skin tone and short red hair. Her tail is not seen often and is plot relevant once — which was a delight for Tiefling fans. It would have been far more exciting to see Doric look more demonic and less human, with solid eyes and sharp teeth.
The reason Doric was “human-washed” was clear: marketing. It is far easier to market and merchandise a human character based on an actress, and it was far less makeup and hassle for on-set filming. Most characters that were not close to human-like in appearance were used in one scene, often not given a name, or even just fodder to be slain.
Doric is still an amazing character, and a personal favorite of mine. Her wildshape scenes are adrenaline pumping and steal the show. The use of CGI is thoughtful and well-utilized, as watching an Owlbear destroy a red mage is satisfying, or the battle of Auman and the red mage with just their hands, one made of flesh and the other pebbles, is captivating.
There is a scene with a wonderfully portrayed dwarf, but he is soon slain by a Displacer. Other fan-favorite monsters such as a Mimic or Gelatinous Cube make an appearance, but the mimic is seen in the background and the cube has a small plot-relevant moment.
“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is a delight for all audiences, from those who are “rules lawyers,” or someone who just wants to waste an afternoon. Hopefully, the movie and the franchise expands our future movie-going experiences.