Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Wants To Be A Marvel Movie, And That Almost Ruins It

This piece contains mild spoilers for "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves."

There's no denying the impact that "Dungeons & Dragons" has had on popular culture over the past few decades. The tabletop's deep world-building and encouragement of roleplaying gave it a particular reputation of being for nerds at best, and being the tool of Satanists at worst. 

Of course, what was once considered uncool usually becomes cool again, and D&D has seen a resurgence in recent years thanks to properties like "Critical Role" and "Stranger Things." It has made a similar inroad to mainstream success as comic books, which saw renewed interest once the Marvel Cinematic Universe made the nerd zone accessible to general audiences. Sure, comic book movies had been successful before, but not at the levels that the MCU brought them to.

Unfortunately, since the MCU first found success with its formula, it has primarily adhered to the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. The same quippy humor, the same story beats, and the same quality of visual effects have arguably been kept intact throughout the franchise's fifteen-year cultural domination, and this superhero movie formula is wearing thin. Nonetheless, Marvel Studios' long-sustained mega-success has led its competitors to lean on these same tenets in their attempts at replicating the MCU's success. And that leads us to "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves," an unabashed MCU clone that just barely has anything distinguishing itself from Disney's juggernaut.

Well, that happened

While developing a team into a family is standard D&D campaign fare, it certainly isn't easy. However, as Marvel's Avengers lineups became less compatible with each lucrative installment, the idea that a team can be created purely through circumstance became all the rage. There is a similar dynamic in "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves," which thrusts its main characters upon each other with little rhyme or reason other than their classes. Despite supposedly being friends for ages, campaign leaders Edgin (Chris Pine) and Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) couldn't feel any less like real friends. Don't even get me started on the total lack of intriguing companionship between sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith) and tiefling Doric (Sophia Lillis), which is perhaps the most forced romantic subplot of the year so far.

The pacing of "Honor Among Thieves" doesn't even reflect the swiftest of typical D&D campaigns — rather, it speedruns through its team-building and camaraderie, seemingly more concerned with getting these characters to the next action setpiece. As such, the third act feels like a typical and generic fight sequence with the main and underdeveloped baddie, big beam in the sky and all. However, the most egregious example of this MCU apeing comes in the form of the film's humor. Despite allegedly not being read as snarky by its cast, it "delivers" some of the smarmiest, too-good-for-itself humor that evokes Tony Stark or Wade Wilson. None of these individual comparisons would be problematic, but once brought together all at once as in "Honor Among Thieves," they cannot be overlooked.

Not all is lost

Sure, this is sounding bleak so far, but there are aspects to "Honor Among Thieves" that thankfully give it its own distinct identity. Most of this identity comes from the tight and legitimately exciting filmmaking by directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley. The way they are able to frame and showcase different shots, in collaboration with cinematographer Barry Peterson, essentially saves the movie. The well-choreographed action sequences especially benefit from this deft directing, as they instantly pull viewers in and keep them hooked until the end of the scene. This is a far cry from the majority of MCU titles, which are directed so blandly that they sometimes feel like watching a picture book in motion.

While certainly a breath of fresh air, the unique directing flair in "Honor Among Thieves" ultimately isn't enough to hide the MCU's overwhelming influence on the film. There are nonstop comic relief lines from a protagonist played by an actor called Chris, and the third act even deploys an arc shot that's very reminiscent of the most famous shot in "The Avengers." Many might argue that "Honor Among Thieves" is its own thing, but the evidence stating otherwise is laid right out on the tavern table.

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