The question that’s been following Prince of Persia around like a black cloud of volcanic ash is whether or not it’ll be another sub-standard video game movie. Well it is and it isn’t. The impressive stunt work, epic scale and appealing lead actors make it easily the best video game adaptation we’ve ever had, but as a film in its own right it falls a little short of being great.
Perhaps it’s for hardcore fans to decide but as far as I could see, the only aspect of the computer game that made an impression was Prince Dastan’s unique fighting style and a world building that only Jerry Bruckheimer could bring to the big screen.
The movie begins with young street rat, Dastan, impressing the King of Persia with his bravery and rooftop running skills. Apparently these are enough to get him adopted into the Royal household. Cut to Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) as a brave but reckless Prince who’s working with his brothers to bring down a holy city that they believe is selling weapons to their enemies. Annoyingly enough, this is where parallels with the Iraq war begin and we’re constantly beaten over the head with them from here on in.
In the heat of the battle, Dastan wins a dagger that has the ability to send him back in time for a minute at a time. The city’s beautiful priestess/Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) sees him with it and must steal it back in order to protect the world from its power. But when Dastan is framed for his father’s murder, the pair must make their way across the desert in order to clear his name whilst stopping the dagger from falling into the hands of Dastan’s evil uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley) whose clearly playing the title role in a game of ‘spot the villain’.
Of course, since there are two characters of similar ages and equal attractiveness, they must fall in love – cue Dastan and Tamina having enjoyable yet frustrating chemistry with the screwball romance of a Spencer and Hepburn movie. Ben Kingsely sleepwalks through the whole thing in the standard jealous brother/uncle role and, as a villain, he doesn’t provide the menace that the story needs. Thankfully, Alfred Molina is around to pick up the duller moments by providing comic relief as a cockney trader.
Despite this, the writing is the film’s biggest problem. The more the script tries to explain the mystery of the dagger, the more convoluted the mythology becomes. The war comparisons are as preachy as they are unnecessary, but when they focused on Dastan the movie was sharp, fun and made me wish they’d converted it to the 3D format the landscape, effects, fight scenes deserved. Guess you missed a trick there, Bruckheimer.