Honor Among Thieves is everything Dungeons & Dragons fans have been waiting for – Liukin

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This initial version without spoilers Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves it comes from the film’s debut at the SXSW Conference 2023. We’ll have more detailed coverage as the film’s release date gets closer.

We live in a new golden age for fantasy movies and shows. Gone are the days when epic fantasy adventures were given low budgets that crippled production, or scripts that showed open disdain for the genre. Now, elves, dragons and magic are as much a part of the pop culture vibe as sitcoms were in the 90s. And yet, thanks to the enormous success of game of thronesFantasy shows and movies are often dark and grim, both in tone and imagery. That’s just one of the many reasons why the film Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves it’s a shock to the system: it’s an attempt to show that we’re finally ready to embrace the fun, mess and downright weirdness of the fantasy genre.

What makes Dungeons & Dragons unique as a game is the way the system works like a huge sandbox. No two games are the same, although players use many of the same tools. The new film, by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, based on a script written by Daley, Goldstein and Michael Gilio, feels like an invitation to sit in the latest session of a campaign they have been running for years.

It’s like watching an episode of Critical Role and to realize that the band not only created a good story out of nothing, but that they had been playing together for a long time, even before the cameras were rolling. even before honor among thievesBardo Edgin (Chris Pine) tells a story about his background so that audiences can understand his motivation (his actual words), and we see his past adventures with most of the other characters, the film feels like the latest chapter in a long and complicated history

Barbara Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) and bard Edgin (Chris Pine) kneel awkwardly on sand and broken tiles in front of various chairs in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Photo: Aidan Monaghan/Paramount Pictures

This is what the best stories do: they invite you into a vast and complicated world that feels as if it existed long before these characters entered the story and far beyond this particular adventure. honor among thieves Aces that world building. Name multiple keys D&D places, such as Baldur’s Gate and Waterdeep. But the real sense of connection for fans of the game comes from the way the film uses real-life sets and locations to convey the grandeur and size of the world, and fills them with a multitude of characters and background vistas, from ruins to ancient monuments. . In some ways, the approach resembles James Cameron’s original. Avatarwhich tells a fairly simple, uncomplicated and often predictable story, so Cameron can focus on building a massive world without overwhelming the audience.

In honor among thieves, that approach pays off. The story of a group of villains who go on a quest to find a magical artifact to pull off a heist is not very complex and often predictable. But it’s effective and to the point, designed to let the characters and the world speak for themselves.

For viewers who have never played Dungeons and Dragons, the world of the film will be no more difficult to understand than Westeros or Middle-earth, except for all the creatures and cultures, from dragons to lizards and cats. (The Tabaxi in this film dominate.) There is a similar variety of creatures, such as owlbears and impersonators. The film uses a lot of practical creative effects that look amazing, although sometimes the CGI touches don’t blend as smoothly as they could. It’s a testament to the writers’ faith in the audience that they don’t over-explain how things work in this world, whether it’s magic, character abilities, factions like the Harpers or the Emerald Enclave, or anachronistic technology. That puts this movie. closer to Willow either The Princess Bride that The Lord of the Rings.

But the differences between Dungeons and Dragons and other fantasy franchises is the sweet spot where honor among thieves really shines. That starts with the portrayal of movie magic, which is unlike anything else on television or in the movies. There are no wizards waving their wands, shooting CGI beams of light around. Instead, they need physical ingredients, gestures, words and even concentration to cast all kinds of spells, simple and complex. The movie makes it very clear that there are limitations to magic: just covering a wizard’s mouth prevents them from casting a spell, for example.

The D&D party springs into action in a red-tinted group photo, with Edgin (Chris Pine) in front reaching over his shoulder with his instrument in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.

Photo: Aidan Monaghan/Paramount Pictures

As cool as magic is, though, Daley and Goldstein make sure everyone in the core group gets a moment to show off their class skills, from the angry, butt-kicking Barbara Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) all in stunningly choreographed action sequences to Pine’s bard. motivating his teammates to achieve their goals. The highlight, however, is Sophia Lillis Doric’s tiefling druid, who steals the stage with her use of Wild Shape in the film’s best sequence, a one-shot escape through a castle featuring different creatures and proves that druids are the best class (Fight with me.)

Arguably, no character feels like they came straight from a gaming session more than paladin Xenk (Regé-Jean Page). He is that film’s version of Jesse Plemons’ character Game night, an incredibly serious character surrounded by silly buffoons. It also feels like that older player who joins a news table with an OP character they’ve been playing for years, who takes the game very seriously, refuses to break character and constantly reminds you that they “can’t stand cheating”. native speakers”.

For fans of the game, or any of its hundreds of spin-offs, it’s a real joy to see these dynamics play out recognizably on screen without shame, to see familiar locations rendered in such lavish detail, and to see this world inhabited by the game. creatures that make D&D such a unique franchise. (The eater of intellects is a scene-stealer.) The film also does a great job of capturing the different tones players can experience in their own campaigns, from horror to cheesy fun, and from epic fantasy to thrilling heist.

That last point is crucial to the success of the film, which juggles with various tones and genres while remaining playfully serious. The characters constantly fail in battles and puzzles. It’s frustrating to see them be total idiots, but also a triumph when they finally succeed. There’s no shaming of the fantasy elements or their origins here, and there’s no attempt to hide or undermine the nerdy stuff with snarky, disparaging comments. No one shows each other’s names or abilities. The appearance of a displacement animal or a gelatin cube does not provoke jokes that they are ridiculous creatures: they are simply treated as dangerous.

The film is playful and serious throughout, focusing on the fact that for the characters, these are important situations. Rodriguez’s Barbara continues to reel from a broken relationship, and when her story pays off, it’s hilarious, but the audience is still invited to feel and empathize with her pain. Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves does not recreate game mechanics or a sense of improvisation as well as, for example, The Legend of Vox Machina, but it is the best Dungeons and Dragons a movie we could expect. It’s not just a fun fantasy movie, it’s a great adaptation of a game session. And it’s an invitation to a new, more visual understanding of a world that dedicated gamers already love, and filmmakers seem to love too.

Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves It will open in theaters on March 31.

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