I never thought I would see a good Dungeons & Dragons movie in my lifetime. When Honour Among Thieves comes out next year, I still might not have. But the movie has earned my goodwill, and that’s because it has an Owlbear in it.
That’s it. Just the Owlbear. That’s all I needed. For you laypeople who haven’t seen the recent Honour Among Thieves trailer, an Owlbear is — wait for it — a bear that has an owl’s head. It’s one of Dungeons & Dragons’ best-loved monsters, but unlike the fan-favourite Displacer Beast (a panther with tentacles that projects its image a few feet away) and Gelatinous Cube (what it says on the tin, other than it slowly murders people who have the misfortune to fall into it), both of which are also in the movie, the Owlbear is loved because it’s so damned goofy. It looks ridiculous. It is ridiculous. It makes no sense, and the owl head doesn’t make the creature any more formidable than a regular bear other than giving it talons and a beak, which is a lateral move at best from a bear’s claws and fangs. It’s just an extra-big, extra-angry bear that happens to have a bird head. And I love it.
For me, it represents the best parts of playing D&D: being creative and having fun. It’s not that the tales told in role-playing game sessions can’t be solemn or emotionally moving, but we have an abundance of fantasy stories nowadays that take themselves with an unrelenting seriousness. Fantasy is allowed to be fun, and those are my favourite RPG sessions — hanging with friends, playing a game, cheering together at every Critical Success, and laughing ruefully at every Critical Fail.
Again, this movie could suck. It’s deliberately aping Marvel movies, it’s definitely a cash-grab after Stranger Things popularised it, the story could end up being terrible, it could be nothing more than craven fanservice, or it could even mock the source material and the nerds that love the game, which would infuriate me to no end. However.
The world of nerdery can be dispiriting nowadays, mostly thanks to toxic fans and celebrities who turn out to be monsters. But just seeing that dumb, magnificent owlbear on that screen was a moment of pure nerdy joy for me, and a powerful reminder there will always be moments like that, even if they feel few and far between.
And yes, I know in the movie it’s a Tiefling Druid who wildshapes into an Owlbear. It’s still an Owlbear. And Owlbears rule.
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