Director: Mike Newell
Screenwriters: Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Sir Ben Kingsley
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Running Time: 116 mins
Prince Of Persia, the latest offering from producing behemoth Jerry Bruckheimer, ticks all the right boxes a franchise-starting summer event pic should: it’s an adaptation of a bestselling videogame franchise, it’s got two of the hottest stars going in Gemma Arterton and Jake Gyllenhaal, and a production budget capable not just of capturing on-screen 6th Century Persia, but recreating swathes of it too. Action, spectacle, adventure, it’s all there, and it’s all big. Big, big, big. Yet despite this there is something lifeless and stilted about it too.
With Brit helmer Mike Newell at the helm, Disney is no doubt hoping the man who steered Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire to top grosser of 2005 can work similar magic, and with a story shaped around an illegal war in the Middle East, Prince Of Persia is primed to be more than just a disposable blockbuster, yet that’s exactly what it is.
Gyllenhaal plays Dastan, an orphan swiped from the slums by the King of Persia and taken under his wing as the titular prince. Flash forward to adulthood and he’s a warrior, fighting for his place among three brothers, only to find himself framed for patricide and embarking on a quest not only to prove his innocence but, teaming up with Arterton’s Princess Tamina, to save a mythical dagger from falling into the wrong hands too.
The platformer videogame heritage is translated, via numerous slo-mo edits, into a big-screen parkour-infused action aesthetic (if a bloodless one) and it works surprisingly well, the numerous rooftop chases a notch above the blade-based action of recent swords and spectacles flicks. Arterton revels in a beefed up role compared to her Clash Of The Titans almost-cameo, proving adept at anchoring as the love interest/action/heroine, and there are a number of entertaining supporting characters too, Alfred Molina’s fast-talking, ostrich-racing ‘entrepreneur’ in particular.
Yet while there are some inspired exchanges between prince and princess, their tag-team heroism lacks any tangible chemistry, with Gyllenhaal making for a dull, if impressively bulked up, leading man. The story too, despite comprising betrayals, battles, ancient myths and serpentine ghouls, offers little that is especially memorable or heartfelt, Sir Kingsley’s Ming-alike Nizam, brother to the King, offering clear signals to the narrative’s destination. And this is the film’s biggest problem: all the big budgets, sets and stars can’t prevent it from being anything but utterly predictable.
Entertaining, and with some spirited performances, this latest stab at launching a fantasy franchise still falls far short.