Jake Gyllenhaal is a wonderful actor with a very Swedish last name, but prince he is presumably not and Persian he is definitely not. Nevertheless, he’s decorated to look like Prince Dastan, sporting layers of leather and dusty robes (an observation which spurs me to rename this character Prince Dusty), and is ordered to backflip across the set with purpose, humour, and a few raging hormones.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is based on the popular video game, Prince of Persia. The movie adaptation begins with a poor orphan boy who demonstrates bravery and kindness in front of the king. The king is so moved he plucks this boy from the alleys and adopts him into the royal family. Several years later the boy is now Prince Dusty, and is on campaign with the king’s two biological sons, attacking a city presumed to be forging weapons for “the enemy”. Some wall-scaling, a little sword play, a nosedive off a tower, and the city is easily won. During the evening’s festivities, however, the gifts get a little too generous and the king winds up dead, with every Persian in the room blaming poor Dusty. He’s forced to flee to save his neck, pulling the lovely Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) with him on his way out the window. Tamina may know how to get him away safely but, of course, she also has an ulterior motive, planning to steel back a specific dagger Prince Dusty stole during the siege. This dagger has mystical, time-turning capabilities, and is thus a precious artifact to noble-born men who command armies and sack cities on a whim.
The above synopsis is long because the movie doesn’t just settle on one detail. There’s Dusty’s murder accusation, the royal someone framing him, Tamina’s sworn duty to protect the dagger (a duty she fails frequently and without much fuss), the dagger’s limited battery life, evil goons who travel by sandstorm, the horse who’s too big to fit in the tent, and something to do with the gods flushing the world of all evil. Like Noah and the arc. Only with sand… and Persians… and polytheism. There’s a lot going on. It is all, however, bathed in the warm, artsy glow of sepia tone. It really looks and feels like you’re in the desert dying of dehydration with only layers of eye-liner to keep you going.
The most befuddling part of Prince of Persia: TSOT, for me, is the casting. I like Jake Gyllenhaal – he’s a great guy with dark, twisted acting tastes – but he should never have been cast as Prince Dusty. There are some overly dramatic, fake-British-accent scenes where Gyllenhaal has the same look on his face as I do – the look which says, “Indeed, this scene is ridiculous. I can do absolutely nothing to make it un-ridiculous so ridiculous it shall remain.” His character is joined by Ben Kingsley as the sketchy uncle who, for unoriginality’s sake, is basically Jafar. Dusty also makes friends with a knife thrower (a man with excellent aim, questionable life-goals, and a limited vocabulary) and a renegade ostrich-racer. That’s right – ostrich racing. It’s a whole rainbow of No’s.
In terms of style, Prince of Persia: TSOT does a good job of looking and feeling like a video game: there are surprise bursts of action against multiple opponents, impossible stunts, a treasure to find and protect, and helpers who don’t quite conform to structured society. Having just reviewed Edge of Tomorrow, whose plot is also built on a game-like foundation, I can only say Prince of Persia: TSOT falls below the bar. It lays on the cheese wherever it can, taking the romantic sunset scene with the couple perched upon a glistening stallion just a step too far by pasting a “This legend will echo through eternity” script overtop. I tick off several points for overdramatic acting, terrible casting, and a dagger with a big red button, and give Prince of Persia: TSOT 3/10. Sorry Mr. Gyllenhaal, but this one just wasn’t your best fit.
The trailer is pretty awesome though.