Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time could have been the one. The one film to break through the now very well established glass ceiling of video game movie adaptations. […]
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time could have been the one. The one film to break through the now very well established glass ceiling of video game movie adaptations. It had a good cast – Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Gemma Arterton – the financial muscle of Disney behind it, an experienced director in Mike Newell and the creator of Prince of Persia helping to pen the story. If everything aligned just right, this could have been the start of a blockbuster series. Heck, it wasn’t even that much of a failure – it made $336 million on a budget of $150 million. It even got fairly mixed reviews, which in terms of video game movies is excellent. The issue is when you add all of this together the result is a film that is good for a two hour time killer but perhaps not one that justifies some guy spending the next 1,500 words talking about it. Yet, I am that guy so let’s go.
The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time starts with the story of how Dastan, a homeless orphan child living on the streets of Persia, impresses the king of Persia in showing his bravery saving his friends from the guards of Persia and so the king of Persia adopts Dastan to be a Prince of Persia. This kid grows up to be Jake Gyllenhaal, which is one hell of a glow up. As an adult he is perhaps less refined than his royal blooded brothers – future king Prince Tus and the hotheaded Prince Garsiv – but they trust him all the same. Their uncle and royal adviser – so we already know he’s gonna turn out to be evil plus he’s played by Ben Kingsley – Nizam warns the princes that a nearby city, Alamut is forging weapons and selling them to the enemies of Persia. Tus is conflicted about the thought of going to war and Dastan is reluctant, yet Nizam convinced Tus to attack the city. Dastan offers to lead the charge but Tus doesn’t feel like he is ready so that task falls to Garsiv.
Luckily, Dastan is a roguish type and his leads his men to attack Alamut from the Eastern side – all quiet like (for about a minute before a big ol’ fight breaks out). They win, they signal Tus and his men that the East gate is open for them and they take the holy city of Alamut fairly easily. Dastan has a fight with one of the guards who was carrying a fancy dagger – he was tasked by the Princess Tamina to take the dagger to safety before losing it to Dastan. Tus offers Tamina an opportunity for the two forces to work together and she initially refuses until she notices the dagger is in Dastan’s possession. She then agrees as Tus plans to make her one of his wives.
The King comes to Alamut to chew Tus out for invading the holy city without concrete proof of their wrongdoing. Tus goes to find proof that they were making weapons so asks Dastan to give his father a royal robe of Alamut as a tribute in his stead. The King seems a little disappointed that the kid he adopted did not have the heart to stop Tus from invading the city. Dastan nonetheless offers the robe to the King and introduces him to Tamina. The King scoffs at Tus’ idea of marrying her and instead suggests that Dastan should be the one to wed the Princess. At that moment, his robe starts smoking – it was poisoned and he burns to death. Everyone immediately turns on Dastan as the obvious culprit but as all of his friends are killed for defending the now traitorous prince he, alongside Tamina, escape the palace and hoof it out of Alamut in a hurry.
The two squabble as neither one trusts the other as they ride across the desert. This comes to a head when Tamina lulls the prince into a false sense of security before attempting to kill him. In the ruckus, Dastan presses the hilt of the dagger which causes the sand to spill out but it turns back time to before the fight. The second time she successfully cuts Dastan but with another press of the button he turns back time unscathed. Tamina notices that Dastan had used the dagger as the sand that was in the handle had vanished, much to her dismay. She tells the prince that there is no more sand to refill the dagger as Dastan has the realisation that Tus invaded Alamut to get his hands on the dagger and its power.
The next day the bickering duo continue to bicker the day away when Tamina collapses due to dehydration. Dastan goes to check on her when she suddenly awakens, hits the Prince with a bone causing the bonehead to fall unconscious. He is awoken by a gang of bandits led by Alfred Molina’s Sheik Amar. However, the prince is able to sweet talk his way out of it by leading the gang to Tamina and they take her hostage while the prince is invited to the city as a guest, just in time for their famous ostrich races. However, Amar eventually reveals that he knows exactly who Dastan is and, with the help of his right hand man Seso – a master at throwing knives – he is stuck in place as Amar’s men take the dagger. However, Tamina causes a riot by setting free the ostriches and giving the slaves weapons to incite a rebellion – in the chaos the two escape with the dagger.
They travel to Avrat where the prince sets up a secret meeting with Nazim – however when he goes to show Nazim the dagger it was gone, stolen back by Tamina before the meeting. However, Dastan notices that Nazim’s hands were burnt. He claimed it was when he tried to take the cloak off the king but Dastan realises that Nazim never touched the king once he put on the robe. An ambush later – topped off with Dastan having to fight off Garsiv – and the prince once again escapes.
He eventually finds Tamina sleeping in the desert and the two reconcile their differences – Dastan, realising that Nazim is the traitor wants to stop him getting a hold of the dagger while Tamina wants to seal it away for good. Nazim wants the dagger to go back in time to the day he saved his brother’s life from a tiger attack, thus killing off the future King and removing his two blood sons from every existing. However, Tamina warns that if he does this the gods will retaliate for the abuse of the power they granted humanity by summoning a huge sandstorm to wipe them all out. The two finally decide to work together.
Nazim has a secret army of Hassansins – or just assassins if you want to be blunt about it – and he sends them out to kill Dastan before he can be captured by his brothers who want to see the disgraced prince face trial for his “crimes”. Dastan and Tamina are indeed captured but by Amar who wants to cash in on the price of Dastan’s head to repay for the damage the two caused to his village – poor sod is only left with one ostrich after all. After the Prince saves the gang from a viper attack – using the small sliver of sand in the dagger placed there by Tamina along the way – the gang agrees to help the two seal away the dagger (in exchange for copious amounts of gold, of course).
However, when they get there they are attacked by Garsiv and his men – but Dastan is able to convince Garsiv of his innocence just in time for the assassin’s to come in and shoot darts into Garsiv’s chest, but not before he saves his brother by killing an assassin. Coincidentally, Garsiv is played by Toby Kebbell making it two film reviews in a row he’s popped up in (he played Durotan in Warcraft, the review of which you can read HERE). In all the chaos, Tamina is knocked out and the dagger falls into the hands – via being ingested by a snake and delivered straight to him by the assassins – of Nazim.
Amar and his men are set to leave with the gold they were promised but Seso convinced Amar to do the right thing and help them recover the dagger. Amar reluctantly agrees and they manage to do so – but not before Seso dies retrieving the dagger after what is probably the most interesting fight scene in the whole movie where it’s Seso and his throwing knives versus an assassin with gloves that shoot bolts. In the end Seso wins but only after being shot by the bolts. He throws the dagger out of the window for Amar to retrieve – with a sense of sadness knowing that his friend didn’t come with it.
Dastan takes the dagger and meets with Tus. There Dastan tries to convince his brother of Nazim’s treachery and of the power of the dagger. To prove it, Dastan plunges the dagger into his own heart. At that moment Nazim walks in to see Tus grieving over his brother and commenting that “he took the coward’s way out”. This causes Tus to get enrages and he activates the dagger, turning back time and saving Dastan’s life. However, his reward was to have his throat slit by Nazim’s men as they attack the brothers. Dastan and Tamina escape but without the dagger. Meanwhile, they have found the source of the Sands of Time underneath Alamut – this is where Nazim is heading in order to stab the sands with the dagger.
Dastan and Tamina take a secret route there but are almost killed by a trap after a pebble falls where it shouldn’t. Dastan is attacked by the main assassin but Tamina grabs his viper friend and forces it to bite the assassin in the eye which gives the prince enough time to stab him and throw him down the bottomless pit. Then they FINALLY kiss before they go off and attempt to stop Nazim but Nazim is able to throw Tamina over the edge. As the Prince keeps a hold of her, she tells him to let go and stop Nazim. He refuses. She slips away anyway. He is sad. She is dead. Dastan uses this rage to stop Nazim but not before almost accidentally causing the apocalypse. However, he is able to close the hilt of the dagger and the process that Nazim started reverses.
Next thing we see is the Prince just after he holds the dagger for the first time – he’s gone back to the moments following their victory. Realising that he’s got a chance to stop everything before it begins, he confronts Nazim, tells Tus that Nazim set all this up and that Alamut is innocent. Nazim initially pleads innocence, but when Tus orders them to investigate further, Nazim tries to stab Dastan in the back. The two fight but as Dastan is about to lose, Tus stabs his uncle, saving his brother. Tus apologises to the now alive again Princess Tamina – who has no memory of her travels with the Prince of Persia – but when Tus suggests that she should marry Dastan, and he offers her the dagger back into her possession, she doesn’t take too much convincing. And they lived happily ever after, because there was never a sequel to suggest otherwise.
I don’t think Prince of Persia is a bad movie. The biggest strength here is definitely a wonderful setting, it is a really good looking movie. Everything is done well on a technical level, but it’s creatively where the movie falters. The film’s story is not very exciting and the whole time travel solution at the end is so obvious that it’s almost insulting that they make you wait almost two hours for the twist. There’s not a lot of originality in the story or the script and that hurts it a lot.
As a straight up action movie it’s pretty good, but it feels like it wants to be more than that. It wants to be a Pirates of the Caribbean so much that I think it tries way too hard to copy parts of that franchises formula. Dastan is a smug prince until he becomes more heroic and then he becomes…a guy? But for a good half of the film he is written like Jack Sparrow-lite – he’s cocky, he’s wisecracking, he’s constantly bickering with the pretty lady who is royalty etc. Disney clearly wanted a new billion dollar franchise but were not prepared to work too hard to get it (and Disney had just bought Marvel six months before this film came out). It just doesn’t have the heart or the charm of a Pirates of the Caribbean.
The action is fine, even good in places, the score is great (you can usually rely on Harry Gregson-Williams to provide a good score though) and the setting lends itself to some beautiful locations. The performances aren’t bad either. I don’t think this played the strengths of any of the main cast outside of Alfred Molina who seemed to be having a blast playing Sheik Amar but they are all good enough that there was no weak performance. The script is the culprit here which meant that Dastan and Tamina are more annoying than they are likeable for most of the film until they stop bickering.
There are some fairly valid complains about whitewashing – it’s a little odd for there to be so many white Americans in ancient Persia as I thought this was the Prince of Persia not the Prince of Philadelphia. This would also be one of Jake Gyllenhaal’s last major studio films as he spent most of the 2010s acting in more independent and character driven roles before putting in a fantastic performance as Mysterio in his big studio return last year in Spider-Man: Far From Home. So, if there is anything to be thankful to Prince of Persia for it is that it potentially was the reason we got so many good performances out of Gyllenhaal for the past decade. Thanks, Disney!
There’s elements to like about Prince of Persia and I have definitely watched worse films, and yet I can’t help but feel like this should have been better. It’s definitely in the top half of the video game movies I have watched but that’s not exactly an achievement. When compared to films in general, it certainly gets marks for effort but overall I just feel like this is disappointing more than outright bad. It had promise but it couldn’t live up to them. Plus it likely helped to kill the video game franchise dead as there hasn’t been a proper Prince of Persia game ever since. A film so disappointing it killed the entire multimedia franchise. That’s kind of impressive.