By Adam Donato
Video game movies are infamously bad, and Disney is no exception (Wreck-it Ralph doesn’t count). Prince of Persia is a very notable video game franchise about, to put it simply, a Prince going on adventures in Persia. The series of games has a long history with a supposedly large fanbase. Disney sought to replicate the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise with Jerry Bruckheimer producing the film. Indie darling Jake Gyllenhaal stars with Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, and Doctor Octopus himself, Alfred Molina. The film was given a budget of $200 million, not including marketing, and didn’t make its money back. Is this another good movie going criminally unseen or did it follow the trend of video game movie that would be better if you had a controller in your hand?
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is fine. It’s a big, dumb blockbuster wannabe that is perfectly digestible. There’s a lot of reasons to root for this movie to be a success, while also having so much going against it. That’s usually the recipe for a controversial movie that everyone is sure to have an opinion on, but nobody saw it. Even if one did see Prince of Persia, it’s so unspectacular that it’s hard to have an opinion on it in general.
On one hand, It’s a video game movie in the best way. People who played the game have noted how a lot of the action is very reminiscent of the source material. Speaking of action, this movie is full of it. If you like parkour, then this is the Casino Royale of video game movies. The budget is very high so of course the action is quite the spectacle. While it may look too animated at times, it gets away with it thanks to its video game roots. The cast is full of talented actors. Gyllenhaal headlines the cast and they couldn’t have picked a more likable leading man. He makes Dastan, this one-dimensional hero, into a somewhat interesting protagonist. Needless to say, you’re rooting for him. Arterton, also starring in the Clash of the Titans movie in the same year, was very hot at the time (pun intended). Kingsley is always a pro. Steve Toussaint, Toby Kebbell, and Richard Coyle all do well in the movie, but none of them steal the show quite like Molina. Sheik Amar is the most memorable character in Prince of Persia and it’s not even close. He would’ve been the Jack Sparrow of the movie, but his character was not given nearly enough screen time. It’s a very light movie that’s fun for the family and is graciously just under two hours.
Literally everything else is not good. The cast, while great, does not fit the movie whatsoever. This is Ghost in the Shell level white-washing and it’s just sad. Indy Mogul questioned why the movie didn’t go full Bollywood and it’s not a bad idea. Gyllenhaal wasn’t even a bankable star at the time and honestly still isn’t. The main gripe that people have about the movie is the script. It’s not terrible, but it is very standard. At least it has themes, despite how shoved down your throat they are. We get it, the movie is about destiny and brotherhood, but the movie still puts “destiny” on the screen at the beginning and end so that you get the message. It’s one of those scripts where if you ask any questions about the internal logic of the story, it falls apart. The romance is whatever. It’s hilarious watching the main couple kiss while the world is crumbling behind them. The villain is fine. Have you seen literally any other movie ever? Then you’ve seen this movie.
Prince of Persia did have the disadvantage of being put through development hell through the 2000s. It had to maneuver through the Writers Guild of America strike and the Screen Actors Guild strike. It’s also fair to say that Bruckheimer has a fifty percent success rate and his Disney family films are more often than not bad. During an interview for Spider-Man: Far From Home, Gyllenhaal jokes about how Dastan may not have been the best role for him to take on. It honestly might be for the best as Gyllenhaal has one of the best track records during the 2010s. It’s not hard to see how Disney would think Prince of Persia would be a big success with its recognizable franchise, notable talent involved, and $200 million budget. The poor movie was up against Sex and the City 2 and Shrek Forever After. It never stood a chance. Maybe if it had better word of mouth.
It’s sad to say, but chalk this box office bomb up as yet another video game movie that just didn’t translate to the big screen. The 2010s had a small string of video game movies that seem to be trending the genre upward, but only ever so slightly. One could make a solid argument for Prince of Persia as the best video game movie. Alas, it feels like a cross between the worst Pirates of the Caribbean movie and the worst Mummy movie. Look at the bright side, if it was a success, then Gyllenhaal would’ve been too busy doing tired sequels instead of starring in critical successes like Source Code, End of Watch, Prisoners, Enemy, and (maybe the best of them all) Nightcrawler. Don’t watch Prince of Persia, but if you do, maybe you won’t hate it. It’s definitely a movie.
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