In the last thirteen months alone, there have been no less than four historical dramas about or containing epic battle sequences. Coincidentally, each was worse than the last"The Alamo
," "King Arthur" and "Alexander
." One would have assumed after that over-the-top, over-bloated Oliver Stone misfire about Alexander the Great that the only way to go from there would be up. One would be sorely mistaken. As disastrously inept as "Alexander
" was, "Kingdom of Heaven" one-ups it by being all the more mind-bogglingly atrocious. Directed by Ridley Scott, whom you would never guess from his slipshod work here that he made 2000's Best Picture Oscar winner, "Gladiator
," this poor excuse for a sweeping-adventure-cum-moralistic-diatribe has got to be one of the sorriest and most lethargic excuses for a potential summer blockbuster in memory. A carbon copy of 2004's "Troy
," only set a few thousand years later and making that average Wolfgang Peterson-directed tale finally look like the awe-inspiring masterwork it wanted to be, there is very nearly nothingand I do mean nearly nothingto recommend this vacuous time-snatcher.
In 12th century Europe, Balian (Orlando Bloom) is a lowly blacksmith mourning the recent deaths of his wife and daughter. When he is paid a visit from Godfrey (Liam Neeson), a well-respected knight from Jerusalem claiming to be his father, Balian is convinced to join him on his trip back to the Holy Land in the hopes of repenting his sins. En route to Jerusalem, Godfrey meets a tragic end. Suddenly, Balian finds himself taking over his father's barony and knighthood, falling in love with a freewheeling married princess named Sibylla (Eva Green), and becoming embroiled in the fight of the Crusades, an impending battle over land and religion between the Christians and the Muslims.
One of the first close-ups of Liam Neeson riding horseback is framed just so that it unintentionally makes him look like he's bopping to a hip-hop song, and it's all downhill from there. Blandly written by newcomer William Monahan, "Kingdom of Heaven" plays like a haphazard history lesson where, no matter how little audiences know about the Crusades going in, they can be assured to walk out 145 minutes later having learned nothing new. The first 90 minutes are an endurance test, one of the most arduously excruciating and slow setups in a long time for a climactic battle sequence that offers absolutely nothing new or interesting to similar and better sequences from "The Lord of the Rings
" trilogy, "Troy
" and "The Alamo
." Static shots of countless fireballs being catapulted through the air toward Jerusalem's wall does not an exciting action scene make, especially when the warriors on both sides are practical strangers whom we don't care about, but at least something is happening at the end to keep the viewer from nodding off.
A perfect waste of an R-rating (aside from the occasional blood splatter, the editing is so disorganized and schizophrenic that the action proves incomprehensible) and so laughably streamlined as to not offend anyone that religion barely plays a role at all in the story of a religious battle, "Kingdom of Heaven" is close to as lifeless as "serious" big-budget fare comes. The snow in an early forest scene is gorgeously rendered, and a shot midway through of birds circling a sea of corpses is visually striking, but that is where the compliments end. All else is hopelessly derivative, tedious to the nth degree, one-dimensional, and apparently in slow-motion mode to steal away whatever intrigue there might have been.
As Balian, a man of sin who rises to the occasion and becomes something of a hero to the Christian faction, Orlando Bloom (2003's "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
") is all wrong in this and every other previous role. A personality-free performer with a blank face and no detectable charisma or range, his constant work in period movies makes him this decades male equivalent to Kate Winslet, minus the natural acting talent. Bloom has the same lost facial expression through every scene and makes Paris Hilton, much-publicized this week for starring in "House of Wax
," seem as elastic as Jim Carrey's face. Oddly enough, Bloom's Balian is in a deep depression at film's start because of the deaths of his family members, yet he never once discusses them and doesn't think twice about hopping into the sack with Sibylla almost upon first meeting her. Speaking of which, their alleged romantic subplot is so impotent that the anticlimactic love scene elicits bad laughs for being so out-of-place and free of spark.
Eva Green, so bewitching in 2004's truly erotic "The Dreamers
," is one of the most gorgeous actresses working today, and has real acting chops, to boot. Because of this, you feel bad for how undernourished and thankless her character of Sibylla is. With one exception, the rest of the actors will go unmentioned, but they are all forgettable ciphers posing as actual people. That exception is Ghassan Massoud, as Islamic general Saladin, who reads his final two lines so poorly and awkwardly that you may seriously wonder if you haven't stepped into a Monty Python skit.
By the time "Kingdom of Heaven" mercifully draws to a close almost two-and-a-half hours after it began, several questions may arise in the viewer: (1) Huh?; (2) Is that all there is?; and (3) What was the point? They also may (4) experience an epiphany, as they once and for all discover what it is like to watch a motion picture where nothing of note happens in its very long entirety. A dreary, uninformative, emotionless disasterat least "Alexander
" had the comical benefit of Angelina Jolie hamming it up with reptiles"Kingdom of Heaven" is bereft of inspiration and life, all the more dispiriting because filmmaker Ridley Scott has been so good in the past. He's on autopilot this time, managing to blow a reported $130-million budget on what amounts to an embarrassing stage production about the Crusades. In the annals of grand historical tales, "Kingdom of Heaven" has a spot saved for itself in the fiery pits of cinematic Hell.