I went to see this film because Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time on the GameCube was a great game: the acrobatics, the fighting with swords, the puzzles, the running up walls, the going back in time – a whole lot of fun, before the fighting became too impossible. It was one of my favourite non-Mario games on the GameCube, so I was going to see the film whatever the quality.
Our Prince of Persia in this film is Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), adopted son of the king of Persia and foster-brother to the two princes who are controlling the army to keep their father’s kingdom in control. However, he gets framed for the death of the king (by a poisoned cloak), and escapes with Tamina, the princess of Alamut (Gemma Arterton), as well as the dagger that the city was protecting, to save his life and find a way to clear his name. There is villainous double-dealing, a fun turn from Alfred Molina as a tax-avoiding entrepreneur (with a nice sideline in ostrich racing), the equivalent of Arabic ninja chasing our heroes, some old-fashioned romance (they hate each other to start with but come to have feelings for each other), and heroic sacrifice.
The film is not great – the dialogue is wooden and filled with exposition, and the actors all struggle to cope with the exposition; the cast are mostly English actors (Ben Kingsley, Richard Coyle, Molina, Arterton), which is an odd choice for Persian characters, so Gyllenhaal has to do an ‘English’ accent that sounds very odd next to the natural accent but doesn’t embarrass him. Apart from looking very pretty, Arterton still continues to fail to show why she is appearing in so many movies at the moment. The film struggles to escape its origins as a videogame, with an excess of plot to hide beneath. The worst decision is the finale: after the heroic sacrifices, we can’t have so much death in a family film, so Dastan uses the dagger at the denouement, which sends him back to the very beginning of the film before any of it happened – I hate films where none of what you’ve seen means anything because it didn’t happen. It’s not as if Dastan has gone on a character arc, because he was a good guy before the film started.
It is lucky then that the film’s USP is worthwhile: the sword action and the CGI for the time reversal when the dagger is used are well done and a lot of fun, and the parkour action is replicated from the game in a faithful and entertaining manner. Gyllenhaal looks the part of Dastan and does a good job as the action hero, never looking like a former indie actor who is struggling to step up. However, although Mike Newell does all right keeping things together, the film never quite manages to pass into the ‘good’ category, so I can’t see the hoped-for franchise taking off any time soon.