Video game movies have always had issues. It’s hard to say exactly what the problem has been, but they tend to be either terrible adaptations, box office bombs, or both, with little improvement over time or directors (for the record, my list of good live-action ones is Mortal Kombat, Silent Hill, and Hitman—which also happen to be 3 game franchises I haven’t played much of at all). But my hopes were high for Prince of Persia, mainly thanks to being released by Disney proper. And, well…I guess my expectations were met.
The story is extremely loosely based on Sands of Time. Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) is one of three princes of Persia (a phrase that is name-dropped three times, and gets sillier each time). After ransacking a holy village, finding a unique dagger and taking Tamina (Gemma Arterton) prisoner in the process, the king is murdered with the blame put on Dastan. He escapes with Tamina, and has to find a way to clear his name and, eventually, save the world.
The biggest thing that Disney has really put on this is the budget. It’s huge in scope. The cities are wondrous, the landscape is beautiful, and the special effects are good. The rewind effect is done well, but sadly, not nearly enough. The dagger can only hold a minute rewind, so we only get a few instances of it throughout the movie. Considering it’s the big artifact of the movie and an important part of the game, I would’ve loved to have seen it used more. Having as big a name as Jake Gyllenhaal playing the hero also helps. He plays a good post-Jack Sparrow adventure hero, equal parts good at fighting and comedic. Unfortunately, his performance gets consumed by Alfred Molina’s comic relief character, who easily steals the show any time he comes onscreen.
The writing isn’t quite as strong. Sometime around the 2nd act, the film just lags significantly. It could’ve easily spent a bit more time fighting and a bit less time expositing. The fights are interesting, the character’s aren’t so much. The fact that it doesn’t follow the game’s plot of sand monsters being released isn’t really a bad thing for the film. It’s a serviceable plot, which is good enough to take the characters from place to place. Whether this change makes it too far from the original version will have to be up to the viewer. As a person who considers Sands of Time one of the greatest games ever, I was willing to deal with it.
Mainly, Prince of Persia is a good, mainstream video game movie. The budget shows well, and it is really nice to get a big studio like Disney really trying to turn in an adventure blockbuster rather than a quick failed cash-in. It’s still probably not the X-Men of video game movies, but it’s at least good enough to encourage them to keep trying.