Universally unloved and panned, I wonder what the critics were watching. Whilst it may not be a masterpiece and is decidedly schlocky in parts, the actors give a gravitas and deep characterisation to the script which doesn’t deserve them and the terrific stage fighting negates some decidedly dodgy costume choices.
Based on a video game (no idea), a dastardly wizard channeling his inner David Hasselfhof/1980’s rock god sans dry ice (Ray Liotta) plots to take over the world or atleast the immediate kingdom. Mwha ha ha. Cue lots of close up staring eyes shots. He’s being aided and abetted by the King’s magically powered daughter (Leelee Sobieski) (on and off) and by the King’s slimy son, comedy sheriff of Nottingham for this movie, Mathew Lillard.
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Fear not tho, for the Stath (yes it is he, Jason Statham) is going to sort everything out and it’s all about family (and farming production)! As well as really dubious costume choices — the Stath is himself, the background extras are definitely in oldey timey medievally clothes, Stah’s ‘wife’ is off to a music festival as she’s in definite boho chic. But she is feisty and intelligent too, so that’s ok that she’s in a different time era to everyone else (Claire Forlani). However her costume improves later on as she becomes more period appropriate. Somehow. And whatever era it is that we’re actually in. But Claire Forlani is magnificent in this hokum!
Horrid usurper air guitar wizard has even horrider troops who storm Stath’s pastoral idyll, kill his son, destroy their home and kidnap his wife, friends and neighbours. Generally they terrorise everyone with horrid big pointy axe-like swords and their dreadful crimes-against-fashion costumes. For reasons that are never quite explained until the end, the Krug have the worst costumes ever. They look like they’re been dressed in tyres, kind of Bane prototypes gone horribly, horribly wrong. But they do a good menacing houseback maneouvre and their horses have clearly won the style-off. Comically they launch themselves in trebuchets as well, sometimes aflame and are remotely controlled by the ‘80’s wizard. You can start to play a fun game now as the 1980’s wizard goes progressively more and more Trump orange during the film. Even John Rhys-Davies joins in at the end.
What is stirring that whilst the enemy may be wearing the worst tyre inspired suits ever and just deserve to be laughed at, the entire cast speak their lines as if they’re in the classiest, highest Shakespeare production ever. The stately seriousness with which they go about their work is consummately professional (as if they’re in an entirely different film or in denial of where they actually are) — they make it! Watch this for John Rhys-Davies impeccable accent alone! (They also have very good Romano-Celtic King Arthury armour throughout too).
Randomly there are some aerial acrobatic elves, who are cool, but undecided about fighting and do not come into play when really needed. I.e. most of the time. However they do turn up later on — which is useful really for the plot. Mostly they are NIMBYs, trying to get everyone out of their forest glade and to stay off their land, unless they are rescuing a magical Princess (never explained).
Imprisoned, the friends and family plot to escape — only they run straight into the tyre people having a cosy rest and a chat. Arggh! Somehow Stath’s wife has gone from festival boho chic to olden timey medievally, which is useful for she now has fantastic pointy sleeves to flap and waft around as she runs around and is re-captured. Noble Ron Pearlman is murdered, sacrificing himself to rescue his friends and another friend (fake Legolas) wishes he hadn’t tried to chat up and encourage the girl imprisoned next to him. She is the prophet of doom and most definitely not of good cheer.
For some unclear reasons, Hasselfhof wizard makes it rain really hard, creating a muddy, flooded terrain for the King’s men. Additionally, it also makes it really hard for his mind controlled troops too. What was he thinking/ Who knows? Why does he want to kill the Stath and everyone — who knows?
Meanwhile the virtuous King BURT REYNOLDS is wounded by his own son and on his death bed, digresses into a chat about Kelp nutrition on agricultural land. Amazingly he is also channeling full-on Sean Connery in Time Bandits! In a Stath fantasy action film, the King is talking with Hobbs about the best kind of mulch! Yes he is a caring king. But it’s bizarre! and not Gladiator! The upshot of this agribusiness moment is that both King BURT REYNOLDS and Stath know the land, love the land, care for the land and thus the King makes Stath the next King, dethroning his knave of a son. (Who has all this time been trying to bump his father off in various ways including sharing poisoned food, as well as sneakily trying out the throne for size with a nubile friend). Like George III, Stath is now the Farmer King. Huzzah!
Valiant beleaguered knights have all had enough of the weaselly Matthew Lillard, which means a duel is called for. In a wood. No one is cheering or even pleased as the weasel realises he’s King now, having murdered his own father in public — he just can’t wait! Lovely bit of characterisation here as the coward lobs his gauntlets at a long suffering knight, who clearly irritated struggles not to remove him himself, grappling with not stabbing him there and then. Alas, dueling knight is honourable and cannot kill his own King, even when he’s a conniving fool. But huzzah, just in time the Stath is here, reluctant king, humble too. Not quite sure what happens to the weasel after that. Does he get tangled up in magical aerial vines again or thrown into a dungeon? He sort of falls off the plot — maybe he got edited out by the irritated knight….
Imagine Dynasty meets Lestat and you have Ray Liotta’z wizard from now on. There are some sweeping scenes as the new King journeys to rescue his captured wife. Even ‘80’s wizards respect pregnant ladies — in full Queenly dignity, Stath’s wife is chained to a throne and menaced by the evil one. Who will reek his vengeance ete wha ha ha ha. In a castle under the ground. Whilst behaving like a restrained Sean Bean with Natalia in Goldeneye. Urgh.
No idea why the Krug or wizard are capturing peaceful farming people — what does he/they do with them all? Mines? More Krug? The Krug look like Orcs, only a bargain-basement version. All the captives are sort of abandoned by the film’s narrative, but clearly escape to join in the big fight at the end as pretty much every main character is dead by the end or almost drowned in mud. It’s like Hamlet — with mud.
Everyone is getting closer…to the end. John Rhys-Davies goes in to sort things out and maybe end the film early — with a chat about wizardly mental health. Orange wizard must be unwell as he’s in a castle underground accessed by vaporising yourself into a tiny slut in the rock outside — no door! There’s a terrific mind battle aka Highlander as they fight with swords and spar with words — at the same time, with no hands! Only the Sunny Delight wizard is devious and kills John Rhys-Davies, who dies augustly, passing on his remaining magic to the King’s daughter, Why has no one made her Queen? Honourably, he undoes his sexism from earlier on when a woman (horrors) volunteered her military service to the new King.
Slimy sexist ocherous wizard though remains very much alive and scheming. Albeit that he does have cool effects: one minute he’s Lestat, the next minute he’s gone full Harry Potter and destroyed an entire ancient picturesque library as well as capturing Farmer. In a nice moment, Queen Stath gets her own sword and kills the evil wizard to avenge her murdered little boy and save her husband (and probably for his crimes against fashion for being dressed for an 1980’s rock band when everyone else is clearly olden times, and a mullet that is a quiff). Huzzah! All those battered library books and Farmer are saved and free! Even before the current English coronation, a woman could have her own sword!
Kudos to the stage fighting during the water logged and lightening hit battles scenes and even between wizard vs King Stath. The battle scenes are brilliant, there’s some wonderful stage craft going on as they hang from moving horses, launch themselves aflame from trebuchets and really fight things out. Sharpe background actors take note. The dueling knight lives, very muddy, Everyone else is dead pretty much and we don’t get any sense of their loss or their friends grief. Abrupt ending of sunshine after a Mr and Mrs Stath regal reunion snog. No reunion of friends or mourning of many fallen comrades. I guess things worked out ok — the wizard has told Queen Stath that she’s pregnant with a son, King Stath has brought everyone onside and is Kinging, the evil one is defeated. Huzzah?
Disturbingly, the Krug appear to be enslaved, even trafficked people forced to fight, for as soon as the wizard is dead, they wander off and stop trying to gratuitously stab people. This is quite a sad note as clearly they’ve been used as forced soldiers and made to fight when they didn’t want to — there’s an aide about how the Krug have no King, so the wizard has become one for them. Surely then they were some kind of egalitarian society taken over and manipulated by the tangerine one.
As previously mentioned, all the dead friends and family are never mentioned again, after being tragically found. Not even avenged? The end! Sequel? (And I forgot to mention the comedy abseiling across a high ravine! Ofcourse one of them gets struck predictably half way along).
Let down by some terrible special effects (even when used sparingly — ‘flying’ by rope worthy of Pierce Brosnan ‘surfing’ across an ocean or some obviously model work for endless troops waiting outside a castle) as well as uneven costume choices and very orange face make-up; these can all be overlooked by the terrific performances and the fact that it’s a Stath film! The plot is incredibly flabby tho, even unravelling due to being so loosely plotted, as major characters are killed, lost or have things happen to them, and apart from the King and son and wife of Stath, their character arc’s are thrown away. We don’t follow anyone through or really care about them beyond Royal Family Stath. Whilst aspiring to be another Lord of the Rings or Highlander, it isn’t purely because it doesn’t care about its people and squanders the budget in naffness.
Be that as it may, the stage fighting (very limited green screening here) is accomplished, including 1980’s wizard and Stath going into full Errol Flynn sword fight mode, with Stath doing lots of nimble biscuits. It’s tremendous fun — if it could have been part of a more Robin Hood Men in Tights and less naff overall movie, so much the better! Treacherous undecided elf people!!!! Would loved to have seen more of Brian White as Commander Tarish, for him to fully develop into romancing the King’s daughter, not just secret battle lessons. Even when caked in mud he owns the screen — let this man onto bigger projects! And speaking of romance, letting the royal Staths have a bit more space at the end — the ending cut is rushed and it’s all over too soon. (Opposite of final Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King where the goodbyes are endless). Watch too for some beautiful camera work as we sweep and soar over the King’s burial pyre and a stunning vista (Norway). Watch too for what feels like quarries from Doctor Who a lot of the time as they ‘climb’ up rock faces….Lot of love too for the vines used by the aerial elves to dispatch people who get onto their land…
For a more serious version of the plot — In the Name of the King — Wikipedia