Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: Like a Footprint in Sand, Forgotten in No Time

1 06 2010

With all the buzz around Jake Gyllenhaal’s abs in the new Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time movie, you’d think the box office numbers would be more forgiving. Unfortunately for Jake (and his abs), Prince of Persia underperformed miserably this weekend, raking in a measly $30 million. With numbers like that (and lackluster word of mouth) it’s doubtful that Prince of Persia will become Disney’s new Pirates of the Caribbean replacement franchise. Here’s the breakdown:

Dastan, orphan-turned-prince, is framed for his father’s murder and hunted by his brother and uncle. In his attempt to clear his name, he teams up with the mysterious and beautiful Princess Tamina and discovers she is hiding a secret that could change the course of history forever. Tamina is the guardian of the Sands of Time and the mystical dagger that controls them – with the press of a button, the wielder of the dagger can go back in time. Dastan must stop evil forces from harnessing this awesome power, saving the world and proving his innocence in the process.

The Monkey: As with most Bruckheimer productions, Prince of Persia delivers on the action and the wonderful visuals. With bustling street bazaars, glittering domes and exotic costumes, the movie felt epic.

Despite a relatively formulaic plot, there were moments of originality, namely a comedic interlude involving an ostrich race, the deadly fighting style of the Hassansins and the dagger’s time travelling special effects.

Gemma Arterton’s Tamina was forced to be the narrator, constantly explaining all the finer plot points and mystical aspects of the movie; yet she managed to keep the audience from growing bored and looked stunning in every frame (although I much preferred her in Clash of the Titans). Alfred Molina was a pleasant surprise, playing the scumbag-with-a-heart-of-gold character with gusto. Unfortunately, he was underutilized.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s Parkour scenes added something new to otherwise routine fight sequences, and acted as a nice nod to the movie’s video game origins.

The Weasel: As with most Bruckheimer productions, Prince of Persia leaves audiences feeling empty. Great special effects, decent actors, visually exciting, humor, romance, action…sitting in the theatre, it seems like the movie is delivering everything necessary for a great night at the movies. But as the credits roll, you realize it was empty. Part of the problem is the target audience. Being a Disney production, the movie has to appeal to a younger market (how else are they going to sell shelves of toys?). But Prince of Persia rides an uncomfortable line between kid-friendly film and adult-oriented action movie. And without a comparable Jack Sparrow character from Pirates of the Caribbean or the cleverness of National Treasure, Prince of Persia’s franchise potential is limited. After all, a movie can’t be supported by abs alone.

The plot wasn’t complicated or dark enough to be taken completely seriously (although the movie itself took itself far too seriously), and it wasn’t light-hearted enough to be seen as a family-friendly action-adventure. The result is Prince of Persia gets lost in the middle somewhere, easily forgotten.

The plot is painfully predictable; the audience continues watching in hopes there might be a twist, or, at the very least, an entertaining action sequence that will distract them from the trite storyline. The biggest cheat, however, came with the movie’s finale. SPOILERS: Dastan goes back in time, to the beginning of the film to keep the entire movie from happening in the first place. Aside from the fact that this gives cutthroat reviewers the perfect set-up for “I wish the viewer could have done the same thing” or “The audience should have been given the same opportunity” jokes, this particular plot device slaps the viewer across the face, saying, “Thanks for sitting through this movie for two hours, but guess what, you didn’t need to, because nothing that you just saw actually happened!” Hmmm…not the best message to leave your audience with. Plus, Dastan traveled back right AFTER the opening battle – why couldn’t he have traveled just a few hours earlier, sparing countless lives? Seems a bit callous.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was a visually entertaining movie and a fun way to kill a couple hours. Unfortunately, it did not live up to expectations, which is too bad, because, if handled differently, it could have been the start to a great franchise. But with the way things are looking at the box office, I doubt there will be any sequels.

2 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did Prince of Persia do the source material justice? Do you think the movie has franchise potential? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Iron Man 2: A Well-Oiled Machine of a Sequel

18 05 2010

Iron Man 2 has been dominating the box office, even beating out Ridley Scott’s and Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood, leading the U.S. box office for the second week in a row. Reuniting Robert Downey, Jr. with director Jon Favreau seems to have done the trick, adding one more successful comic book movie to the ever growing roster. Here’s the breakdown:

Billionaire playboy Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), has become a one-man army, acting as a sort of world peace keeper. Because of the Iron Man suit’s near invincibility, the U.S. government, along with rival industrialist Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), become intent on gaining access to the suit’s technology.

Add in Tony’s recently acquired and debilitating blood disease, a feisty new assistant with a secret (Scarlett Johansson), a scorned Russian inventor (Mickey Rourke) and an old friend turned ally (Don Cheadle) and Iron Man 2 has all the ingredients necessary for a summer blockbuster.

The Monkey: Right off the bat, I have to give the filmmakers kudos for keeping this sequel “simple;” not simple effects, not simple story, but a straightforward, no-doubt-about-it sequel. The title is clear – no lengthy sub-title, just the oft-discarded “2.” And there was a certain level of confidence that the movie could perform well without having to cave to industry trends by choosing to release the movie in standard 2D instead of 3D (the same can be said for the upcoming Prince of Persia as well).

Unlike many blockbuster wannabe’s, Iron Man 2 knows what it is – a colorful, effects-laden comic book movie. And that’s exactly what it delivers. The set-pieces are extravagant (namely, the Stark Expo), the effects are dazzling and the film abandons the path of dark, gritty drama for an even lighter and much more humorous script than even the first installment.

Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance is inspired – just as Tony Stark declares, “I am Iron Man,” Downey, Jr. is Tony Stark. His wit and subtlety elevate Iron Man 2 beyond a mere eye-candy flick to a solid, legitimate film.

Many critics have lamented the many new characters and the multiple plot threads, claiming the movie can’t contain them successfully (similar to the universally disappointing Spider-Man 3); however, I didn’t get a sense of compacted plotting or superfluous character. Even thinking back on the complexity of the story, it indeed seems a bit too much for a two hour movie, but the end result is completely satisfying.

The Weasel: Downey, Jr.’s is the only performance most people will pay attention to, and for good reason. The supporting characters of Iron Man 2, while not distracting, hardly add anything worth speaking of. Just about any actor even remotely fitting the character could have been plugged into the various roles (as made evident by the positively baffling move to replace Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle – Cheadle added absolutely nothing to the role, making the switch pointless and confusing). The only exception to this might be Gwyneth Paltrow, who, after two movies, I think has earned the right to be Tony Stark’s go-to gal, Pepper Potts.

While the myriad plots worked well together, an overall theme, an element that tied everything together, was sorely lacking. The writers tried to remedy this with a half-hearted storyline involving Tony’s father, but it felt forced and tacked on. Should it have been further explored? To create more emotional weight and cohesion, maybe, but it could have just as easily slipped into cliché and melodrama.

A successful sequel, to be sure. And while Iron Man 2 stands alone, the movie provides some wonderful teasers for future Marvel projects, the culmination of which is The Avengers in summer 2012 (make sure to stay till the end of the credits for a special teaser). And Iron Man 3 has already been announced, with a possible 2013 release.

3.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did Iron Man 2 live up to the original? Are you excited for the upcoming Marvel movies? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Clash of the Titans: A Movie That Took Itself Too Seriously

5 04 2010

A stylized and CGI-heavy remake of the cult-classic 1981 film, Clash of the Titans has made recent headlines regarding its hasty conversion into the 3D format. Both positive and negative reviews of the film have almost universally agreed: the 3D version is shoddy and even detracts from the film. In an interview with USA Today, James Cameron said, “They’re converting Clash of the Titans in eight weeks. But I’m guessing six months to a year to do it right.” Apparently the critics agree. Due to the overwhelming feeling that the 3D version was subpar, I decided to save the few extra bucks and see the film in the 2D format. Here’s the breakdown:

After the death of his family at the hands of Hades, Perseus vows to stand up to the controlling and merciless deities. In an effort to defeat Hades and his monstrous Kraken, Perseus sets out to get his revenge and save the city of Argos. Teaming up with Argosian warriors, a beautiful demi-god, Io, and the mysterious Djinn, Perseus must travel to the underworld and back again on his quest for revenge.

The Monkey: Overall, the movie was an enjoyable, entertaining popcorn blockbuster. Visually, the film was stunning. The production design was the film’s strongest point. From the Ferryman on his hellish boat to the creepy Stygian Witches, Clash of the Titans must have been a conceptual artist’s dream job. The portrayal of Olympus was original and beautiful, and I especially liked the Google Earth-esque floor, complete with swirling clouds.

It was great to see Polly Walker (Atia from HBO’s Rome) as Cassiopeia, Queen of Argos. Although she played pretty much the same character as her Rome role, and she only had about 2 minutes of screen time, it was nice to see her. Gemma Arterton practically stole the show; not only was she gorgeous, but her silky voice and sufficiently ethereal characterization was one of the only genuine performances in the entire movie. Now I’m even more excited to see how she does in the upcoming Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

The giant scorpion battle was the highlight of the film. Not only are audiences treated to some of the best and most intense action of the film, but the use of humor worked really well in this scene also. The final battle was exciting and offered plenty of eye candy; it was especially cool to see Perseus and Pegasus fly/gallop through the streets and skies of Argos, dodging Hades’ minions and the Kraken’s destructive tentacles. (note: anyone else notice that Perseus’ sword was basically a Greek lightsaber?)

The Weasel: The plot and characterization of the movie were sorely lacking. Even just writing the brief synopsis for this review, I had to ask myself, “Was Perseus trying to save Argos or get revenge? How did he get roped into helping the Argosians?” A massive disconnect in the main protagonist’s motivation is never a good sign.

I think the film’s biggest flaw, however, was that it took itself much too seriously. I mean, for crying out loud, you have flying horses, Liam Neeson in shiny armour and giant scorpion attacks! This movie should have been high-adventure, Indiana Jones-style. Where was the humor? Where were the clever one liners? Instead, audiences were treated to two under-utilized comic characters that served little function (why were they even there?) and some of the worst dialogue I’ve heard in a while. You know a script is bad when Liam Neeson can’t even pull off the dialogue without invoking laughter.

The movie needed much more heart, it needed to be lighter. That’s not to say it still couldn’t be action-packed, even violent. But the characters needed to resonate. The body count continued to rise as the movie progressed, but you realized, after the fourth or fifth death, that you don’t care. Where Lord of the Rings succeeded in creating a distinct character for every member of the trekking team, Clash of the Titans fails miserably.

While this might be another blog post altogether, I think The Dark Knight is to blame for movies such as Clash of the Titans. The Dark Knight somehow convinced studios that dark, gritty and serious equaled solid storytelling and a good movie. Wrong. The Dark Knight was so good because of the characters and the story; the fact that it also happened to be dark and gritty was secondary.

A quick note about the CGI: surprisingly weak. Hades’ fog of shadow looked extremely fake and the entire Medusa character looked like she belonged in a video game.

A brainless night at the movies, but a definite case of “the trailer was better.” There was a brief scene where Perseus discovers the mechanical version of Bubo the owl from the original 1981 version. He’s told to leave it behind. The scene was a symbolic gesture, letting audiences know this new version was leaving the old version behind. Big mistake. The film could have used some light-hearted, mechanical owl action.

2.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did Clash of the Titans live up to your expectations? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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