A new trailer for the upcoming film Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves was revealed July 21st during San Diego ComicCon and gave prospective audience members the best look yet at the latest attempt to adapt the world’s most lucrative tabletop RPG to the big screen.
It’s one of those early trailers that shoves as much snappy dialogue and cinematic shots as possible without spoiling anything too plot-critical. Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Rege-Jean Page, Justice Smith and Sophia Lillis all play members of a band of thieves who seemed to have accidentally delivered an ancient artefact to a Red Wizard of Thay, helping the cult unleash some primal evil, foretold doom or otherwise malevolent force upon the world.
Pine, who plays the leader of the ragtag group, apparently rallies the party to clean up the mess they helped create and thus become heroes - the catch apparently being that none of them are too keen on heroics, sacrifice or those kinds of actions. The set pieces include an arena where a jet-black, feline displacer beast and a translucent gelatinous ooze threaten the combatants, a fiery shrine at the heart of a volcano and the Underdark, a realm of weird creatures and bioluminescence.
The movie is trying very hard to be Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy in both tone and construction - a crew of unwilling underdogs face off against a foe that far outclasses them and spend the runtime sniping at each other and making sarcastic remarks about whatever is happening. It’s also full, floor to ceiling, with references designed to make fans of D&D point at the screen going, “Ahhh! It’s Waterdeep/a black dragon/a mimic/that spell my character knows!”
It feels referential for the sake of familiarity layered on top of a filmic smugness that was perhaps novel when the first Guardians movie used it to differentiate itself from the core Marvel entries - but it has become just as much a feature of that pop culture juggernaut as a big ol’ beast slapping a hapless foe against the ground like a dog’s chew toy (Hulk in The Avengers; Lillis’ druid, wild shaped into an Owlbear here).
If it sounds like I’m being glib, you’re spot on. This trailer wanted to capture its two core audiences - D&D players who will come to see how accurate the film can adhere to the hodge podge of high fantasy tropes that is the tabletop RPG’s backbone, and blockbuster movie fans who simply love to watch Hollywood smirkboys travel towards CGI cityscapes while 80s rock anthems play in the background. Perhaps the script, written by Michael Gilio and co-directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, isn't being presented in the best light here, but it feels like an obvious nudge and wink to a very specific crowd.
I’m ready for Honor Among Thieves to prove me wrong - film marketing is notorious for stripping every bit of nuance from promotional material for the sake of engagement. But this first big trailer tells me to set my expectations for a fun, loud popcorn flick that is every bit as commercially appealing as its source material.