Jake Gyllenhaal plays Dastan, an orphan boy who is adopted by the king of Persia and grows up to be a somewhat roguish but loving son. He and his older brothers attack a holy city after evidence arises that the city is supplying enemies of Persia with weapons (the first of many questionable modern world allusions). As it turns out, the city isn’t really making weapons, but they do have one weapon of possible mass destruction, in the form of a dagger that can turn back time for its user. Dastan comes into possession of the dagger, and is forced to use it after he is framed for the murder of his adopted father. Tagging along with him is Tamina (Gemma Arterton), the princess of the holy city, and the latest in a line of guardians of the dagger. Dastan and Tamina must stop evil forces from trying to use the dagger for their own dastardly plans, while also trying to clear Dastan’s name.
One thing the film does very well is present the things that made the (newer) games so memorable. Dastan does his fair share of running along walls, flipping over anything he can find, and being more acrobatic than anyone could conceivably be. Fans of the game should be reminded of the things they enjoyed, and the action scenes are well staged and exciting. Although he doesn’t use it a lot, the scenes where Dastan uses the titular sands of time are very cool, I would have liked to see the film’s creators use it more often and find different ways to use it in the action scenes.
The cast of the film does a good job in the film. Jake Gyllenhaal is very likable as the lead, even if his fake British accent is a little funny to hear at times. He plays well with his leading lady, Gemma Arterton (who is having a good year for period epics, having played a very similar role to this one in Clash of the Titans). Alfred Molina is one of those actors who can make a movie more entertaining by his mere presence, and that is exactly what he does with this role. Sir Ben Kingsley adds a bit of class to the film as Dastan’s uncle Nizam, and even though you know what turn his character is going to take, he makes it enjoyable to watch. I don’t know what he’s doing working on this film. I mean, not only does he have an Academy Award, but he’s an honest to goodness knight and then you look at his film credits; BloodRayne? Thunderbirds? Really? He’s free to pick whatever roles he wants to take; you just never know what he’s going to turn up in next.
The biggest problem with the film is just that it’s entirely predictable. If you’ve seen any action/adventure movie in the past, you know exactly the turns that the story is going to take. I’m okay with this, and you might be as well. I don’t expect every movie to be chock full of surprises at every turn, and predictability means that I can just sit back and enjoy the ride, but I do like to be kept somewhat on my toes and that is not what this film is going for. This is a pure popcorn action film, so don’t be upset when you know a half hour in how the movie is going to end.
I was also left a little cold by the set design for the film. Any time the scene is set outside in a natural environment, it looks okay, but all the scenes set in the city feel like we’ve been transplanted to the magical world of the Persian sound stage. Everything looks just that slight bit of unauthentic that kept me an arm’s length away from really buying into the setting. It probably wasn’t helped by the fact that all of the actors are British or American and they’re all using British accents, and there’s only about a handful of actors in the whole movie that look like they could have actually lived in Persia. I know it’s just an action movie, and I’m not actually expecting all the actors to look like they come from the region where the film is taking place, but it’s something that stuck out at me and kept me from just going along for the ride.
Is this the best adventure movie I’ve ever seen? No, but I went in with fairly low expectations, and I saw it at a cheap theater, so I wasn’t mad about having to pay for it. It’s a silly action movie with likable characters and decent action, and if you’re a fan of The Mummy films or you have fond memories of playing the game, I think you’ll have a decent time with it. I’m giving this one a very middle of the road 3 out of 5. It’s very much worth it if you’ve got a couple of hours to kill.