The film starts with Dastan (William Foster), a beggar boy living by his wits in the bazaar in Persia, getting caught stealing. Seconds before he’s to be punished for his thievery, the King of Persia (Ronald Pickup) appears and, seeing a hero within Dastan, stops the punishment and instead has him move into the palace as an adopted son. Zoom forward fifteen years or so and now-adult Dastan ( Jake Gyllenhaal) is joining his royal brothers Prince Tus (Richard Coyle) and Prince Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) on an assault on the holy city of Alamut. With them is long-trusted family advisor Uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley).
The assault of the city, a combination of swordfights, archery and Parkour, is truly thrilling, and watching Gyllenhaal swing, swoop and leap from building to building is great fun. It’s also true to the original form: Prince of Persia started out as a late ’80s video game for MS-DOS and Apple II computers. The reasons for the attack are suspect and soon Dastan is on the run, with a victim of palace intrigue, Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) in tow.
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Prince of Persia has the same feel and pace as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, except that Prince is a bit more family friendly. There’s also a sweet — and witty — romance between Prince Dastan and Princess Tamina, complicated time-travel elements and a hilarious gem of a performance by Alfred Molina as the savvy, entrepreneurial rogue Sheik Amar that help make Prince of Persia one of the best films of 2010.
The film isn’t without its flaws, however. One of the most surprising glitches was that many of the long shots were obviously computer generated and looked more like a video game than a multi-million-dollar special effect. The ending was a bit confusing too.
What I most liked about this film was the mythos of the poor boy with the heart of gold who becomes a prince. At one point, King Sharaman reminds Dastan, “The boy I saw in that square was capable of being more than good, of being great.” Doesn’t every boy dream of secretly being a hero? Harry Potter is a similar story, and it’s no surprise that Prince director Mike Newell directed one of the Potter films (The Goblet of Fire.)
The banter between Prince Dastan and Princess Tamina was delightful and there’s a very modern sensibility about their interchange, even as they’re in the middle of a fantasy film set a thousand years ago. Their dialog is suggestive and flirtatious, but in a manner that’ll pass right over the heads of younger audience members.
Princess Tamina is also a strong, capable character, a nice switch from the prototypical helpless females that populate most of these fables and older video games.
Finally, as the King states more than once, it’s “the bond between brothers that is the sword that defends the empire,” and it’s the combination of honor and brotherhood underlying terrific action sequences and a good, entertaining story that makes this the next blockbuster of 2010. I’m looking forward to the Prince of Persia sequel.