Ah, the eternal quest to make the first “good” video game movie. It’s a journey I’ve watched for years now, and it’s seemed like we’ve been walking uphill in shifting sand, no closer to our goal, or even further away than when we started.
But then came along Prince of Persia, a project with the money, talent and story behind it that gave it the confidence to proclaim that it WOULD be the first truly good video game movie, unseating Resident Evil as the one closest to that throne currently.
Well, unfortunately, there’s a vast difference between a good movie and one that’s “good for a video game movie” and Prince of Persia really is only the latter. Yes, it very may well be the best video game movie to date, but considering its competition, that doesn’t exactly earn it bragging rights.
The film takes place in Persia, sometime between when Xerxes gave Leonidas a back massage, and the the US military blowing most of the area up. It’s a sword and sandal epic to be sure, but one that’s decidedly modern, and pays absolutely no regard to any semblance of historical fact. And for good reason.
Hmm should we trust the creepy bald guy, or the one who looks like human Aslan?
The plot revolves around a young prince named Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) who stumbles upon a dagger that has the power to turn back time courtesy of magic sand in its handle. The dagger is a sacred object entrusted to a princess (Gemma Arterton) who must protect the dagger’s power source hidden far underground which has the ability to destroy the world if discovered by the wrong sort of folk.
But there are other factors at play, and Dastan is set up by someone in the royal family who makes it seem that he’s killed his father the king. The usual suspects include two brothers (Toby Kebbell and Richard Coyle) along with Ben Kingsley as Dastan’s uncle who might as well have the word “villain” stamped between his eye-linered eyes.
It’s exceedingly strange that in the heart of Persia, all the citizens happen to be very tan white people with inexplicable British accents. I’m not sure why Hollywood believes that anywhere, be it Germany, Persia or Middle Earth, is suitably foreign if everyone adopts an English inflection.
There’s been a big fuss made about the casting of Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead role of this, as he’s about as white as white gets (I believe he’s even part Jewish), and everyone was clamoring this could have been a breakout role for a Middle-Eastern movie star because you know, those don’t really exist in America at the moment.
All of this is true, but it’s obvious that those behind the film weren’t willing to risk a bold and progressive casting choice at the expense of box office receipts. So Gyllenhaal it is, and he’s surrounded by swarms of other white people just so he doesn’t feel out of place.
“Someone put this on YouTube!”
But honestly, you’ll forget about all the race mumbo jumbo ten minutes in, and Gyllenhaal’s Prince Dastan is equal parts charming and annoying, much like he is in the game. His flirtations with Gemma Arterton’s princess are certainly believable, but there’s nothing about their banter, nor anyone’s in the film, that’s particularly funny, even from Alfred Molina’s bumbling nomad character, presumably written in for a few laughs that never come.
All the jokes in the film will elicit no more than a smirk, but mostly they’re just filler until the next epic swordfight. There’s some good choreography here, but nothing I’m going to remember past tomorrow. There’s also an annoying slow-motion effect in many of the roof jumping scenes, where instead of fluid Matrix-like motion, it’s a bit choppy and looks pretty dated.
You would think that a dagger that can turn back time would stack the odds in one’s favor quite a bit during fights, but thankfully a limited amount of magic sand relegates the dagger’s use to a few select moments, and most of the action involves Dastan’s excellent sword fighting abilities and his even more excellent parkour skills, which involve vaulting off rooftops and camel humps, and will remind you of the platformer this movie is based on.
When it comes down to it, it’s a fairly interesting story in a fairly unusual setting for a summer blockbuster. But unlike big-budget counterparts like Transformers or Wolverine, there’s nothing offensively bad about it, but unfortunately “not bad” doesn’t equal “good” and the video game movie movement will have to soldier on without a true champion.
2.5 out of 5 stars