I wish the Dungeons & Dragons movie had more sincere fantasy than self-aware cringe
Banter is the Bane of modern blockbusters.
I’m losing faith in the Dungeons & Dragons movie with every new piece of marketing material released.
Since the launch of the most recent trailer, my enthusiasm for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves has dwindled from slight optimism – that cast reveal had so much promise - into a resignation that I’m probably not going to enjoy this film. Obviously, I reserve complete judgment until I’ve actually watched it, but I’m not liking the direction that the D&D movie appears to have gone in.
The recently released trailer gives the impression that the tone of D&D film will be mired in the same self-referential, fourth wall-breaking quagmire that too many films have been stuck in for far too long. Throughout the trailer, the action and audio frequently pause to make way for all the witty one-liners that can be squeezed into 160 seconds.
Though two-and-a-half minutes isn’t a lot of time to communicate a rich world and an epic plot, the trailer dedicates almost no time to it. Audiences who aren’t familiar with a lot of the iconic imagery featured in the trailer – such as a mimic or an owlbear – will have absolutely no clue as to the setting of the D&D movie other than generic fantasy. Meanwhile, fans of Dungeons & Dragons aren't given a chance to appreciate how lovingly some of their favourite aspects of the RPG have been depicted due to the constant cutting away to, you guessed it, more witty dialogue.
For those of us who have been following the cringy adventures of the official Twitter account for the D&D movie, the sheer level of self-aware snark in the trailer doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Launched last April, the D&D movie Twitter account has been heralding the coming of this trailer for almost a year through its various attempts at “relatable humour” - such as the time it asked fans to “Choose your fighter! I’m the logo.” or posted “In: owlbears. Out: non-owlbears.”
In the case of Honor Among Thieves, it’s banter that feels like it was written by a room of executives that’s the really off-putting element.
Besides the fact that treating the social media account for your multi-billion-dollar company like it’s being run by a meme lord is embarrassing, this kind of approach doesn’t work for Dungeons & Dragons. The whole thing – combined with the recent trailer – comes across as trying way too hard to be cool, as if D&D hasn’t already been exceptionally popular for at least the past 10 years.
Choose your fighter! I'm the logo. #DnDMovie pic.twitter.com/BIzqjKa9Sj— Dungeons & Dragons Movie (@DnDMovie) January 4, 2023
D&D doesn’t need to throw away its lore, worldbuilding and sincerity to be considered cool. The attempts to hide or discard these aspects of the series are what made me dislike the animated adaptation of Critical Role’s first campaign, The Legend of Vox Machina. Beneath the running jokes and gags from players, Critical Role is absolutely sincere. Masking that sincerity with gross-out humour, unnecessary swearing and various other ‘adult’ elements is what turned me off its cartoon adaptation.
There is so much D&D lore, characters and world-building for a good movie to utilise.
In the case of Honor Among Thieves, it’s banter that feels like it was written by a room of executives that’s the really off-putting element. Comedy can nestle next to sincerity quite nicely – the iconic jokes found in The Lord of the Rings series are a testament to this. It just has to be comedy that would make sense coming from the mouths of the characters occupying a fantasy world. Fourth wall-breaking gags would work just fine in the D&D movie if its characters were aware that they were in a fictional world, like in the recent – and genuinely great - Jumanji films. If the premise behind the D&D film was that a group of Dungeons & Dragons players got sucked into their own campaign, all the self-aware comedy would fit in just fine. However, there hasn’t been any indication that the characters in Honor Among Thieves are anything but unsuitably witty citizens of the Forgotten Realms.
A sincere Dungeons & Dragons movie might stray away from the recent trend of quip-heavy and irony-filled blockbusters. Nevertheless, it would offer something audiences haven’t had in a long time: a fantasy movie that fully embraces the genre its source material has played a large role in shaping. There is so much D&D lore, characters and world-building for a good movie to utilise. Whether you directly adapt a classic campaign or take inspiration from one of the many sourcebooks for D&D, there’s plenty of material to build a story from: one that offers heartfelt moments, epic set pieces, grand vistas and, yes, even comedy.
I wish Honor Among Thieves would give character comedy a chance.
Rather than relying on the now-tired cliché of winking at the audience, I wish Honor Among Thieves would give character comedy a chance. Have viewers connect with its characters, before making them laugh with jokes that are funny because of what they know about them. A reluctant RPG party being forced together for the greater good is the ideal scenario for this kind of humour. It’s just a shame that the Dungeons & Dragons movie chooses to lean into the one-liners, rather than a form of comedy that would work in tandem with sincerity.