Reviewer: Charity Bishop
There's nothing I love more than a big-budget blockbuster. I did not go in expecting much and when I came out, had decided Prince of Persia is worthy of the legacy Disney's last epic-scale franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean, left behind. Call it the first successful crowd-pleaser of the season.
Orphaned and left to fend for himself, young Dastan never realized when he risked his life for another child that he would draw the attention of royalty, but when King Sharaman witnesses the boy's courage and fortitude, it is decided that Dastan will be raised as his own along with his sons. Fifteen years later, the royal princes are formidable in warfare and fond of one another. The eldest (Richard Coyle) is in training to become the future king of Persia, while his dutiful uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley) guides his responses and assists him in making wise decisions. When it becomes known that one of their holy cities is supplying their enemies with weapons, it is decided that the city must be taken by force -- a feat that proves successful but not without cost. In defeating an adversary, Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes into possession of a fine dagger with a glass hilt. What he does not realize is this special dagger will give him the power to turn back time... and that it is worth killing for.
One of the guardians of the magical dagger is Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), who becomes a fugitive along with Dastan when something unthinkable happens. Soon they are running from their lives with a ransom on their heads -- and the full force of the dagger has yet to be revealed. While this script is inspired by a popular video game, and the movie does play homage to the game in various fun and smart ways, it can stand alone as a decent piece of cinematic material. Most adaptations cannot claim that much -- this has a first-rate plot, some fun twists and turns, and enough adventure to satisfy even the most ADD audience. I can count on one hand the number of times an audience has applauded at the end of a film, and this is one of them. It's a romantic, dangerous, mystical adventure into a fantasy version of history, complete with gorgeous costumes and a solid cast. Gyllenhaal and Arterton have great chemistry and their romance does not feel rushed or forced, since it starts off on the wrong foot, continues into constant arguments, and then at the end begins to soften.
Many of the escape methods and fighting techniques are straight out of the game -- leaping rooftops, sliding around on ropes, dangling from wooden pegs halfway up sheer walls, climbing with the assistance of arrows embedded into stone. There are a few modern jokes thrown in for the audience's enjoyment (one man Dastan runs into evades Persian taxes by spreading lies about the notorious thieves in a particular valley, whereas there is nothing more terrifying than ostrich races going on) and problematic material is kept to a minimum. There are a couple mild innuendos and some immodest garments on Tamina and other Persian girls (midriff or cleavage bearing outfits). There's no bad language. The only two things Christian audiences might be concerned with is the mystical element involved with the dagger and the violence level, which never pushes the PG13 rating but is worthy of one. Many men are shot with arrows or sharp pieces of metal (we see them sticking out of chests, and sometimes a little blood), stabbed with swords, slammed through and into walls, flipped around, or bitten by poisonous snakes. Several times, main characters sacrifice their lives for a greater cause. A man is shown thrashing around on the ground and bursting into blisters after having been poisoned. The two most graphic images are a man having his throat cut, and another being impaled on a pike. We see a snake being sliced open and something being removed from its innards.
The dagger is said to have been a gift from the gods to hold back their wrath; if it is abused, and the "sands of time" allowed to flow freely, it will wreak destruction on mankind. Tamina is a member of a group of "guardians" that must protect the dagger from being stolen or abused. Though what he is goes unexplained, a sorcerer sets out after them: he travels in cyclones and manipulates snakes (they vanish into his garments, travel underneath sand to attack sleeping caravans, and threaten anyone he does not like). If you're fond of the fantasy genre or were not concerned with the supernatural aspect in the Pirates films, this is no more pervasive and in some ways, less sinister since it doesn't involve the walking dead. It surprised me with the fact that it was simply fun to watch -- it doesn't require much emotional involvement but still manages to include a few wonderful moments and they were careful to keep the action scenes from becoming too repetitive. Overall, it's one of the more enjoyable experiences I have had in the cinema.