Mike Newell's film is the best movie adapted from a video game made thus far. It also happens to be the first good movie based on a video game. But the bar was set pretty low so Prince Dastan could easily jump over it with the help of Mr. Spectacle producer Jerry Bruckheimer. While I'll probably need the sands of time to travel back and remember the film by the end of the summer, the journey while I was sitting in the theater was a nice trip.
King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN) had two sons — Tus (Richard Coyle, TOPSY-TURVY) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell, ROCKNROLLA). One day out in the market, he has a run in with Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal, BROTHERS), an orphan boy who saves another young child from having his hand cut off by palace guards. Taken by the boy's spirit, the king adopts Dastan as one of his own.
Years later, while the king is away at prayer, his brother Nizam (Sir Ben Kingsley, GANDHI) receives news from spies that the city of Alamut is selling swords to the Persian enemies. Tus and Harsiv are eager for war and believe their younger brother is not ready to lead. Despite his own misgivings against the attack, Dastan leads his own ragtag crew to breach the Alamut walls through the backdoor, while his brothers attack from the front. Dastan ends up with an ornate dagger as the spoils of war ad Tus takes the Alamut princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton, QUANTUM OF SOLACE) as his next wife.
However, the victory is short lived for Dastan when he is set up and forced to go on the run. Tamina escapes with him with the goal of stealing back the dagger, which she has been tasked to protect. The one who wields the dagger can briefly turn back time. As Dastan and Tamina tussle back and forth on possessing the weapon, they encounter Sheikh Amar (Alfred Molina, SPIDER-MAN 2), an outsider ostrich racer who hates paying taxes. At his side is the African dagger expert Seso (Steve Toussaint, JUDGE DREDD). But with a bounty on your head deals with criminals are not binding.
While there is a fair share of visual effects, I liked the use of stunt work that drove many of the action sequences. I never felt like I was getting bombarded with increasingly ridiculous CG effects. Like in the game, Dastan bounces up walls and across rooftops like a 6th century parkour expert. Like in the tradition of the Indiana Jones series, one action sequence follows the next quickly.
But unlike Indiana Jones, PRINCE OF PERSIA doesn't have the characters. Dastan and Tamina attempt to have that same kind of banter as Indy and Marion, but its not quite there. But where the film lacks in the nuance of character development, it has a solid base for its iconic characters. Dastan is the scrappy hero who is looked down on by his brothers for being the street urchin made royal on the whim of their father. When he is set up, we instantly connect to his fate. The plot nicely twists and turns on who is behind the betrayal. Gyllenhaal brings boundless charm with the few moments when he's not running up walls. But not since Kevin Costner attempted a British accent in ROBIN HOOD has the cockney been so butchered. But why are Persians speaking with British accents anyway?
PRINCE OF PERSIA is simple summer popcorn entertainment. It's slick and fast. To its benefit it never tries to be post modern or pop culture infused. It takes the basic iconic tenants of the sword and sandal films of the past and weaves in the modern need for the supernatural. You can turn your brain off and just enjoy the ride. And unlike movies with giant robots battling in the desert, this movie doesn't talk down to you like you're five.
A few things did strike me as curious though. A war is waged based on fake reports of secret weapon production. A second-in-command sends out secret assassins when his soldiers are not available. Sounds like I heard this story somewhere before. But oh well, that's just me not being able to turn my brain off. PRINCE OF PERSIA isn't about deep thoughts on war; it's about larger-than-life heroes in exotic locations and how cool it is scale buildings a few bounds.