Kingdom Of Heaven

2 stars


10th May 2005

History is soooo rubbish - everyone knows the future is where it's at. Catapults and swords are pretty much going to come in second place when compared to blasters and lightsabres every time, which pretty much explains my attitude to every other film released this month. It's a harsh fact of life, but you don't get in the way of a geek and his Star Wars movie. You're going to have to try pretty hard to get my attention, Mr. Scott, and a Gladiator clone with a fey little girl in the starring role isn't exactly the way to stoke my fire right now.

So, the man who re-invigorated the swords and sandals epic has returned to the arena to try and top his previous effort, which let's face it, is still pretty much the daddy as far as this sort of flick goes. Since then we've had Tom Cruise fighting ninjas and samurais (all the while with impeccable teeth), Brad Pitt fighting Trojans (all the while with impeccable hair) and Elijah Wood fighting Orcs (all the while with an impeccably polished ring). Anyone else bored of these things yet? There's only so many times you can watch one big CGI army fight another big CGI army, so as far as I'm concerned, Ridley Scott is skating uphill from the start.

Let's go back to the Middle Ages, where the city of Jerusalem is still under Christian control and is under siege from Saracen forces. A young blacksmith named Balian (Orlando Bloom) has just lost his wife and child when his rich daddy, Lord Godfrey (Liam Neeson), trots up the driveway. Deciding he'd much prefer a pampered life as the son of a Lord in the holy land, Balian ends up taking on his father's role and eventually ends up defending the walls of Jerusalem from the relentless Muslim attacks. Everything is supposedly historically accurate (right down the characters) and if you can see a parallel between the plotline and the conflicts in the Middle East at the moment, then congratulations - you're officially all smug and clever.

I don't know about you, but I have a huge problem with the idea of Orlando Bloom commanding an army. In fact, I think I just have a huge problem with Orlando Bloom full stop. The man could no more command an army than Steven Hawking can control his arms and legs. You watch Gladiator and you're under no doubt that testosterone-soaked Russell Crowe could have actually survived in ancient Rome. Bloom would have been lion food. Crowe could walk into a room and command the attention of every soul within. Bloom would struggle to open the door. We've established the problem of having an effete blouse-wearing mincer as the leader of an army, granted, but Balian is actually a bit of a... well, a shit. He kills a priest, hooks up with his rich poppa (then proceeds to get him killed), fucks someone else's wife despite the death of his own wife and child not a few months before, gets beaten up lots and gets roundly trounced by a superior army for days on end. Not exactly a hero you can root for, is he?

Despite being over two and a half hours long, Kingdom of Heaven still feels like it's skimming over a lot of majorly important plot points. How can a simple blacksmith turn into a powerful warrior and master tactician so quickly, with next to no tutelage? Why is the object of his affection, the lovely Eva Green, denied any decent amount of screen time? It feels like there's an even bigger movie struggling to be seen, but quite frankly, it's not one I'd want to watch anyway. Don't get me wrong, Scott's visual flair is still in evidence on every frame. We go from golden sands to lush green reed fields to crisp blue winter mornings and back again, there's no doubt that it's a stunning looking film. Even the battle scenes, despite often seeming like an identikit version of previously seen rucks, all look the part, particularly when Balian's stronghold is being whomped by huge balls of fire and generally whaled on from all angles. Style has never been a problem for Scott, but then neither has substance, until now.

The supporting cast are made up from numerous thesps, all of whom have already proved their worth in this sort of shindig - Jeremy Irons looks regal and permanently concerned as commander Tiberius (but still talks like a cat hacking up a hairball) and Brendan Gleeson gaily prances around like a 12th Century Billy Connoly. Main bad guy Martin Csokas, as the slimy Guy de Lusignan, is greasier than a Tim Curry sandwich and doesn't particular do anything other than make rubbish decisions and sneer at everyone like a man with a cleft palate. Way to rule an army, guy!

I wanted to like it, simply because Troy pissed on any affection I once had for the genre. Unfortunately, due to the highly suspect casting of Bloom as a General and a seemingly twelve hour running time that still manages to miss out crucial details, I shall have to wait until someone else has a proper stab at it. Besides, I've got more important battles on my mind at the moment. Well, someone has to cut those pesky Jedis down to size, don't they?

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