Thy kingdom come...

So Kelsey and I went to go see Kingdom of Heaven on Saturday on the UltraScreen, as I took a sick day from work to recuperate from the insanity that was Friday. It was very strange to go see a movie on a Saturday afternoon, since I haven't done that in years, but that's when we could go, and still go to Brian and Collette's party later.

Like I've said before, I am a sucker for period epics, such as Spartacus, Gladiator, or even Lord of the Rings (kinda counts). I love to see big battles and action set pieces up on a big screen, where they're larger than life, and you really can escape from the present day. So Kingdom of Heaven fit the bill this particular weekend, and I could sum it up with one phrase:

It was better than Troy.

I know that's not saying much. When I went into the movie, though, I expected it to be better than Troy, mainly because of my faith in director Ridley Scott, and it was. It was better than Troy. Not as good as Gladiator, but better than Troy.

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I thought they were trying to make Lord of the Rings 4: Trouble in Jamaica, and, in a way, they did. The battles, the dialogue, Orlando Bloom: they're all fairly reminiscent of LOTR. Even the siege towers used in Two Towers and Return of the King get recycled here. I wonder if WETA worked on this movie as well, and just used the same model.

But I love Lord of the Rings, so this is not a bad comparison. If anything, Ridley Scott adds more artistic flair to the fairly straightforward work of Peter Jackson, as Kingdom is, at most times, a beautifully shot movie. Just as Gladiator brought a peaceful aesthetic to the violent of world of Maximus, Scott infuses moments of tranquility into what is, at its core, a war film. He succeeds where Wolfgang Peterson and Oliver Stone failed, by striking the right balance of storm and calm, and coaxing a believable performance out of his cast.

Speaking of which, much has been made of the fact that Kingdom is Orlando Bloom's first star vehicle, although I would say Pirates of the Caribbean is pretty close to a starring role. I think he performs admirably as the film's central character, Balian, a young French widower who travels to Jerusalem during The Crusades at the request of his father, played by Liam Neeson. Bloom does play a similar character to his other notable roles: like Legolas and Will Turner, Balian is honor-driven, noble, upright and a skilled young fighter. But to me, his character here had dimension, and I found him more believable than in past movies.

The supporting cast is also impressive. Marton Csokas, Brendan Gleeson, Jeremy Irons and Eva Green all turn in great performances, although Irons is the standout, as usual. And if you can tell me who played King Baldwin, a leper under a mask for the entire movie, without looking it up, you win a prize. I was blown away when I looked it up on IMDB. (Click this sentence for the answer.)

Where the movie runs into problems, though, is in its message. It strives to show that not all Christians are good, and not all Muslims are bad. Really? I had no idea! I did feel like I was being talked down to for a while, since I already knew that. When Muslim leader Saladin fixes a cross that had been knocked over, I groaned. Yes, some people do need to understand that message, especially the nutty right-wingers who justify the Iraq war by grouping Iraqi citizens in with Al-Qaeda, but is a big-budget action movie the place to do it? Not really. Let Robert Greenwald handle that, and Ridley Scott, you just go back to making cool movies.

I liked Kingdom of Heaven. I just thought it was patronizing at times, and I guess I don't need a positive world-first message with my popcorn and Junior Mints. It is a good movie to see on the big screen, just how I like, and it did sate my LOTR appetite a little bit. So I give it a B. Troy gets a D.


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