To take a break from my ongoing battle with the Resident Evil franchise, I decided to check out the one film that many say is probably the best Video game movie Hollywood has ever made. Now I know that is not very high praise, but I even remember watching this film when it first came out and kind of enjoying it. There were some good action scenes, decent acting, some fun characters, and lots of sand. For what it is, Prince of Persia could very well be one of my best chances at enjoying one of these video game adaptations as an actually decent film. So it is time to see if this is decent popcorn fluff or just another disappointment in a long line of disappointments.
What is interesting about this film is that it actually doesn’t adhere to its source material much. Yes it has the same type of setting, focus on great acrobatic displays, and something involving time travel, but for the brunt of it Prince of Persia stands alone only borrowing ideas from its source. I actually found the approach relatively refreshing since I was able to enjoy a film based on a mediocre video game series done in a new light, since Prince of Persia was not well known for its in game stories. The story follows Prince Dastan on his quest to figure out who used him to kill his father to gain power and to clear his name of being a traitor. Hijinks will ensue over the course of the adventure, but this is new territory. Instead of just the lone prince we have three brothers all with different personalities. We have a princess with some spunk to her, an uncle who seems villainous and played by Ben Kingsley and a band of comedic relief lead by Alfred Molina. All in all this seems like it will be a relatively fun adventure.
Here is where everything goes wrong however. The plot while commendable in attempting to use time travel better than almost every other time travel film, lacks nuance. It feels like it is traveling beat for beat without any idea how to link segments together without adhering to a pattern, making each new scene feel like we have watched it already. The princess and Dastan walk a tiny bit, argue then get caught by someone. They then feel the need to argue some more, escape, then almost get captured again. While I like the pairing of Jake Gyllehaal and Gemma Arterton playing the two leads and their chemistry on screen, they don’t really move from point A to point B too quickly due to a lot of pointless bickering. Fun, but slows down the movie. The whole “who killed the king” plot point is too obvious and therefore a bit painful for the audience when you try to see Dastan figure it out doing stupid things to horrible results that could have been avoided if he worked together with Arterton instead of bickering. The villain is obviously Kingsley, they don’t even try to hide it well. He says some things that sound evil, is the “advisor” to the princes and brother to the king, and is the one who brings up evidence necessary to invade a holy city. If that doesn’t scream “schemer” then I don’t know what does.
The decision making in the film can be a bit weird as well. The princes make some very stupid decisions that lack sense and it’s noticeable in some specific scenes nearing the end of the film. I mean why walk up to an armed guy while you are not armed? Why do you think he won’t attack you? It makes you question the tactical prowess or just plain common sense of the princes. Though while the princes may lack common sense, they do have a nice and easily distinguished dynamic between them. Dastan is the street rat adopted by the king for his selflessness, Garsiv is arrogant and brash, and Tus is the most dynamic and indecisive. In a way they do complement each other, but also most lack a believable character arc. Dastan stays the loveable and good-natured rogue who may not always do the right thing throughout the film. While he grows closer and matures as a ruler through his relationship with the Princess Tamina played by Arterton, he never really learns much of anything. Garsiv has a very sharp character arc of learning to open up to Dastan as he just randomly gets over his anger and frustration in a flash. Tus however feels like the best character of the three. His arc of learning what it means to be king is not long or really important in the movie, but it is given a great performance by Richard Coyle. Learning that the strength of the kingdom comes from his brothers and trusting what is in his heart is a generic but well-executed subplot in the film.
The comedic relief of Sheikh Amar played by Alfred Molina and his trusted bodyguard Seso played by Steve Touissaint are actually relatively good in the film. Molina plays the goofball with a great one liner later done to death, while Touissaint plays his conscience and straight man. In a way, they liven up the film with each scene they are in. Touissaint even has one of the best action scenes in the film that actually uses slow motion correctly. His battle against a Hassansin in a tower with both using projectiles is shot so well and feels suspenseful since you actually grow to enjoy his presence in the film through him being one of the only morally respectable characters. Molina and his Ostrich racetrack brings quite a few smiles or giggles throughout the film and kind of lightens up the more dour tone of the film, or gives us a break from Dastan and Tamina bickering.
There is one other set of characters I have mentioned but never really cared to talk about up to this point and that is the Hassansins. They are glorified stunt actors within the film. They try to make them feel like this terrifying secret society of Persian assassins hiding in the shadows throughout the film, but for the most part they are easily dispatched. They show up for their action scene then die. Even their introduction feels like “oh no we are losing elements to create cool action scenes with…uhhh throw in some cool stunt actors!” To some degree their actions scenes are always fun, but their relevance to the plot feels a bit superficial.
So the film is called “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” and yet I haven’t really gotten to the Sands of Time part. Well that is because, even when the time travel is simple it leads to so much convolution and the extension of the story. Yes the Sands of Time is just as much a McGuffin in the movie as it was in the game itself, used more for a cool visual effect to save their lives once or twice rather than anything important. They try to tie the Dagger and the Sands of Time into the whole “killing the king” plot, but it feels tacked on in the end rather than something that has been the agenda of the villain since the beginning. They even have one moment where they essentially say “so that’s how he knew about the dagger!” as to make it feel like an important element we were missing from the story. At that point I could care less as it was only the cool action scenes that kept me going. The Sands of Time feel like the least interesting element of the plot and more a tie into the game than cohesive since the whole usurping the throne plot could have been done without it. They even journey to one place, knowing that they are being tracked all because the Princess wants to get the Dagger there. We know there is like thirty more minutes left to the film so this feels like just another pointless plot thread where the Dagger gets stolen yet again, woven like a quilt into the movie.
The biggest saving grace of the film is the surprisingly well shot action sequences involving Dastan, Seso, the Hassansins or the Ostrich racetrack. As much as the settings themselves lack imagination (besides the racetrack and the tower scene) everything feels generic and unremarkable. There is nothing particularly defining about this feeling more at times like a live action Aladdin than a Prince of Persia film. However when you hit that sweet spot of the film not overusing slow motion effects needlessly, or a random action scene to try to excite the viewer out of boredom, they really do create some watchable fluff. The only scene that I reference however is the tower scene, because besides that one action sequence there is no other action scene that feels recognizable or worth mentioning. They are all watchable to some degree, just not as well executed since they are bogged down by choppy editing or slow motion. The tower scene feels like the right amount of interesting set-up for a fight, good character you want to see win and survive, cool fighting abilities, and the use of slow motion makes sense since they use it to show how close the projectiles come towards the characters in pivotal moments. It is quite riveting and most of the film in the end is kind of riveting if not still dull.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is decent popcorn material that has fun characters going through fun adventures. It doesn’t limit itself to executing the game frame for frame and to that end it creates a more distinct identity from others of its ilk. There really isn’t anyone doing a particularly bad job with the material they are given as some characters are rather limited in what they can do on screen, such as Garsiv only given scenes where he is angry or confused. The action scenes are fun if not too indulgent in slow motion, comedic relief brings at least a smile, and the use of time travel feels better than most. To some degree this film feels competent in what it is trying to do, which is to be a fun family adventure film. While it isn’t Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl or an Indiana Jones film it still feels middle of the pack popcorn material. No one is going to rave over it and by the time we receive good video game adaptations worth viewing, it will most likely be long forgotten by then. For now however it’s worth a watch on a boring afternoon or during an action movie marathon.
Finally…I enjoyed myself for once! Well I mean I did for the animated Resident Evil film as well, but this one I actually kind of liked and not as a guilty pleasure. In a way I find myself a bit relieved to watch this film again to reaffirm myself that there may be a glimmer of hope in video game adaptations potentially getting better at some point. Only time can tell however as they haven’t really managed to pull one off since then.
So have you watched Prince of Persia? What did you think about it? If you have any suggestions for video game movie recommendations or the like feel free to leave them in the comments down below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and don’t forget to have yourself a great day!