As Monjilla, the Dragon Lady, I’m obviously going to be Team Dragon and as a SoCal Gal, I’m not into Dungeons at all. I never played D&D, but my scientist husband did. He rates this Chris Pine-led film two stars ⭐️⭐️; I give it three ⭐️⭐️⭐️. I don’t give half-stars. I must say: Love that chubby red dragon, but didn’t love the East Asian representation.
I did take time to visit the dreary 2000 “Dungeons & Dragons” film that featured two roguish thieves, Ridley Freeborn (Justin Whalin who is better known as the young Daily Planet photographer Jimmy Olsen in the “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” TV series) and Snails (Marlon Wayans). That New Line Cinema film is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video, but even Jeremy Irons as the Mage Profion villain can’t save this film directed by Courtney Solomon and written by Carroll Cartwright and Topper Lilien. That’s a film only fit for boredom Saturday afternoons as one’s halfway to the sandman’s domain of dreams.
This film was followed by “Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God” in 2005 which takes place a century after the first film and includes one character (Damador) from the first. The last film in this series was a direct-to-DVD release in 2011: “Dungeons & Dragons 3: The Book of Vile Darkness.”
Diversity was in the mind in 2000 with Wayans as the diversity dude comic relief and diversity is even more a factor in the 2023 “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” although this diversity doesn’t do any favors for East Asians. You can tell from the promotional poster that this is about a White guy, Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine) and his crew which includes barbarian Holga Kilgore (Dominican-Puerto Rican actress Michelle Rodriguez), film magic sorcerer Simon Kumar (Justice Smith) and trifling druid Doric (Sophia Lillis).
The film begins with Edgin and Holga together in the Icewind Dale prison and brought to appear before what amounts to a parole board. There we get a chance for exposition. Edgin was a member of the Harpers who are a benevolent society, but he went astray when he returned home to find his wife was killed by a Red Wizard. His daughter, Kira, had been spared, but Edgin learned of a resurrection tablet (Tablet of Reawakening) that would allow one person to be brought back from the dead. Luckily, this isn’t a zombie story (but there will be zombies) and Edgin, in his mission to retrieve the tablet, he and Holga are caught while their comrades Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant at his smarmiest) and Sofina (Daisy Head) escaped. That was two years ago, and now, Edgin and Holga break out of this ice-bound stronghold, travel through the frozen tundra, through the steppes where they encounter the round yurts (or ger) and steal horses. They journey on and finally find Kira with Forge who is now Kira’s guardian and become the Lord of Neverwinter with the help of Sofina.
Kira (Chloe Coleman) believes her father to be quite the rogue and not in a good way, and believes the lies of Forge. While Forge claims the two have left, in actuality, he was going to have them executed when they escaped. To prove he is still the truth, Edgin is determined to break into Forge’s vault and steal the tablet of resurrection. But, as you probably guessed, he’s going to need help. Getting into the vault requires some relics, some help from holy knight (paladin) Xenk (Regé-Jean Page) some information from the dead, a trip to a dungeon where there will be dragons and plans upon other plans.
I found it all fun and my husband told me that some of these place names were indeed part of the actual games and that East Asia was not part of the original D&D, but then neither were people of African descent. Neither of us were impressed with how Page’s Xenk was used for comedy. Likely the timing could have been tightened up by directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (“Spider-Man:Homecoming” in 2017) and the script by Goldstein, Daley and Michael Gilio (“Kwok Stop”) needed some sharpening.
Diversity is a matching game here. Elgin is played by Pine who is White. Holga is played by Rodriguez who is Latina. The woman who plays Zia, the mother of Kira and the wife of Elgin is mixed race Georgia Landers. Lillis is White and Smith is Black. Page is mixed race (English and Zimbabwean).
- Elgin: White
- Doric: White
- Forge: White
- Sofina: White
- Holga: Latina
- Kira: Mixed Race (Black and White)
- Zia: Mixed Race (Black and White?)
- Xenk Yendar: Mixed Race (Black and White)
- Simon Aumar: Black. (father, African American; Mother or European descent)
- Dralas (a Red Wizard that is played by British actor Jason Wong): East Asian
As I noted above, the scenario is that the two leads, Elgin and Doric, pass through a land which has yurts or ger, a housing style characteristic of Mongolians. However, the casting is diversity in Black and White with a Latina. Dralas is a minor role. The passing through Mongolia without really involving Mongolians or people who could pass as Mongolians is reminiscent of the Disney+ “Loki” series where Loki turns up in Mongolia, but then ends up imprisoned by the Time Variance Authority which did have a Filipino cast in a minor role–Eugene Cordero, but left the main roles for people who were Black (Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Wunmi Mosaku) or White (Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson). In addition there was Ilan Muallem (hapa Sri Lankan) as Minuteman #11 (4 episodes) and Alvin Chon as Minuteman #10 (3 episodes).
In the casting of “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” the diversity is focused on Black and White as if Europe and Asia were farther apart than Europe and Africa. Ger or yurt are consider symbolic of Mongolia. I understand that once Zia was cast that Kira had to follow as mixed race Black and White. However, that still means that Xenk, Simon, Sofina or Forge could have been East Asian or even Asian Indian. Moreover, the lead male (Pine) and the lead villain (Head) are both White. The thief without honor who triggers this whole adventure, Forge (Grant), is also White.
My husband and I dressed up in our dragon best. My husband wore his eBay-bought dragon aloha shirt. I wore a Boden dragon shirt and dragon sweater. We both had dragon face masks that I had made. Just that week, our D&D matching rings with die had arrived. We were ready to roll. It was a fun adventure but it could have been better and it is so much better in every way than the 2011 film. I suppose in a way, this film examines whether there is honor among thieves, and the answer is, not likely. Perhaps with some and those thieves would be the ones we’d want to follow. As I mentioned above, I loved that red dragon.
“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” premiered at South by Southwest on 10 March 2023 with a 31 March 2023 release date in the US.