Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Review Backlog 2: Prince of Persia

Yes, yes I know, this movie has been out for something like a month. But here at Arnor Productions (which creates and produces Reviews of Gondor and 2nd Age Reviews, and part of a continuing series of jokes that no one is getting because the reference in my screen name is a little too vague) we have a policy of never reviewing anything on time. My last review was of a movie from 1978 and by the end of the summer I'll have reviewed something from 1954.

But enough of that, I'm here to talk about Prince of Persia. First off, I'd like to hang a nice spoiler warning over this review, because Prince of Persia has a twist ending. No, it's not going to come as much of a surprise to those of you who played the game which shares it's name. It's probably not going to come as much of a surprise anyway, but it is a twist ending, so just consider this a spoiler warning just in case I reference it. Secondly, much of the pre-release discussion about this film have focused on one issue about this film, namely what amounts to casting decisions. Since I wish to be something of a pack breaker (I tend to doubt that's an actual term), I am going to steadfastly refuse to address this issue during my review. We good? Okay, moving on!

Entering speed plot mode, a kid growing up on the streets is noticed by the king of Persia for having...honor or something, it's never entirely clear, and adopts him. Flashforward 16 years and he and his brothers are preparing to attack a holy city which has supposedly been supplying their enemies with weapons. During the assault the Prince proves his bravery by winning the assault essentially single handedly and in so doing wins the Dagger of Time, which he later finds can turn back time. Very quickly he is blamed for the death of the king and is on the run with the Princess in charge of the city he just ransacked. And then a bunch of action scenes happen.

Since the meat of any action movie needs to be the action scenes themselves, let's start by examining those. Most of them are competent, if not particularly original. The film has some early fun by basing the combat around a speed based fighter rather than a strength based fighter, kinda like if Legolas was the main character instead of Aragorn (though come to think of it, Legolas did seem to get most of the action scenes...hm). There's a bit of fun during the siege, in a scene reminiscent of both the Siege of Helms Deep and the hatchet climbing scene of The Vikings(those of you who know what I'm on about, you're awesome.)

Most of the action and/or chase scenes are well done and jolly fun, though most of the chase bits consists of the Prince doing free running through ancient city streets while pursued by dozens of guards, it's much more reminiscent of Assassin's Creed than Prince of Persia, which is fine with me because I fucking love Assassin's Creed, but it might bother other people more. Later on the film has some good moments, mostly focused around the unique and interesting character designs and abilities of a group of Hassassin's, which comes to a zenith near the end with a fight that amounts to Bullseye vs. Deadshot. On the other hand, the film never lets itself have any real fun with the Dagger of Time. In fact, with the exception of one brief fight scene near the middle, it never really comes up in combat. But that could end up being more of a problem than a benefit (more on this in a moment) so I'll let that slide.

The special effects are good, save for some dodgy CGI snakes around midpoint, though I suppose if that's your biggest failing in the special effects department you're doing good. And they're not bad, just...obvious. Why is it always animals that seem the screw people over in CGI. Not even people. Anywho, cinematography is fine, nothing special but fine. Music is nice, though it never manages to attain an anthem, which is kinda a shame. Next time invest in Hans Zimmer, eh?

The plot is mostly interesting and well timed, mostly. The film seems to have a rather large affection for Act 2, so it moves from Act 1 to Act 2 very quickly and seems to sit there most of the rest of the film. The dialogue is well written, though most of it suffers from a rather sever case of what I call Men In Black II syndrome, where most of the best lines are already in the trailer, and if you think back to the trailers and TV Spots for Men In Black , you'll know exactly what I mean.

Of course now we come to the films major failings, which while not crippling, do prevent it from reaching the upper levels of Period Action/Comedies, of which Pirates of the Caribbean and The Mask of Zorro are the gold standard. Firstly is characters. In Pirates of the Caribbean, all of the characters from Jack down to...you know, those two stupid pirates, one of them has a glass eye? Their names escape me. Anywho, all of them were well defined and interesting, even if they only had a few minutes on screen. In Prince of Persia, only the Prince and one mostly irrelevant character get any real characterization. Even the Princess isn't all that well defined, most of her character consists of her bitching the Prince out. This comes to a head with the villains. The primary villain is doing a fairly standard Evil Vizor, with no real interest, and most of the combat villains might as well be robots. That fight I referred to, Bullseye vs. Deadshot, is enacted by someone we don't really know vs. someone we don't really care about.

This leads to the second major problem, which is that the Prince has to hold up the entire movie all on his own, which is a problem. Jake Gylenhall (or however you spell that) is not a bad actor and he's certainly well cast, but unlike the main characters of the other Period Action/Comedies, he's not good enough to hold up a movie all on his own. He lacks the acting chops of Johnny Depp or the charm of Antonio Bandaras, and he's not as good looking as Orlando Bloom. This wouldn't matter so much if he had a solid supporting cast, but since none of the other characters are interesting it stands out.

Both of these lead to the third major problem, which is going to take a while to explain properly, so settle in. Let me tell you about Urgency. Urgency is what made Dark Knight so fucking good, and it's the chief failing of all of the Superman movies. Urgency is when characters you like are in dangerous situations and are likely to get hurt or killed and you worry about them or want them to triumph. Part of the problem with Superman is that he's so powerful, very little is threatening to him without Kryptonite, so we have trouble getting excited. The only Superman film that managed to have any sense of urgency was Superman II, and which one is generally considered the best? Yeah, thought so.

With Prince of Persia, we know it's not dark or complex enough to kill it's main character (we're not doing 12 Monkeys here) and we don't really care about anyone else. Minor characters do get killed, by the truckload, but it's impossible to care because we don't care about any of them. Add in the fact that the Dagger of Time is always sitting there, begging to be used to turn back time, and the danger never feels really real.

Of course, despite all my griping, all reviews have to come down to the answer to one question which leads into a second: Is it good and should I see it? And the answer is: Yeah sure, it's alright. It's not, by any stretch of the term, bad. It's well plotted and well directed, and you'll probably have a good time. It's not a world changer, but so few things are. Disney is already positioning it as the next Pirates of the Caribbean style franchise, so the plot and ending have more than a passing resemblance to Curse of the Black Pearl. I don't personally think it justifies a sequel much less a franchise, but poor quality hasn't stopped them from making 2 sequels to the Narnia movies now (just a warning Disney: You fuck up A Horse and His Boy and I'm coming for you). It's not going to be a multiple viewing movie, but if you want a good time at the movie, check it out. That's it for me.

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born Cinephile and he cannot remember the name of single character in this movie.

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