Vacate the edges of your seats, here comes the report you’ve all been waiting for: my Kingdom of Heaven review, which is probably grossly inaccurate, since I’m working by memory on an unmemorable film.
Kingdom of Heaven is an epic adventure about a common man who finds himself thrust into a decades-long war, a stranger in a strange land*, he serves a doomed king, falls in love with an exotic and forbidden queen, and rises into knighthood. Ultimately, he must protect the people of Jerusalem from overwhelming forces – while striving to keep a fragile peace. From Ridley Scott, the –
Oops. That’s not my review. That’s the official synopsis from the movie’s website, kingdomofheavenmovie.com, not my review. Incidentally, I find it amazing that kingdomofheaven.com was available to be bought up by a cheap internet advertiser by the time the movie came out. I was expecting some religious fundamentalism when I typed it in, but all I got was a chance to buy movie tickets–or the domain name, which is for sale, too. But anyway… (Oh yeah, SPOILER WARNING! [for those who still haven't had a chance to study the Crusades])
The movie begins with some reading. “It is the year 1186,” which is momentarily confusing, until you realize that they’re just using the present tense dramatically. The crusaders have captured Jerusalem, blah blah blah. When the picture arrives, we get to see a crossroads, where a woman is being buried by creepy, thieving grave-tenders. The camera then zooms in on Orlando Bloom, He-Who-Is-So-Dreamy-Amen, who has once again been cast as a blacksmith, and who is not at the crossroads, but rather doing his blacksmithy thing. Why does Hollywood love blacksmiths so much, and why do they think He-Of-The-Gracefully-Flowing-Locks makes a good one? Even when he’s cut, he’s only slightly built. Wouldn’t a blacksmith be an amazing hoss? Yet he’s been a blacksmith in not one, but two summer movies, including Pirates of the Carribean.
It’s snowing the most amazing fake snow I’ve ever seen, amazing in that it looks absolutely nothing like snow. It’s like feathers or ashes or something. And then Qui-Gon Jinn rides up with some knights, looking for his son, his bastard son, who is, of course, Orlando McHottie. The blacksmith doesn’t want to leave his blacksmith’s shop, so the knight goes on. Enter the priest who was at the grave to mock our hero, telling him his (Orlando’s) wife (the chick being buried in the opener) is walking around headless in hell, because she was a suicide. Orlando de Hot sees the priest is wearing his wife’s crucifix, which is an amazingly dumb thing to do if you’re a priest who’s planning on going and taunting her widower, but this is one dumb priest, and so Orlando** kills him with the sword he’s been forging. This causes his entire home to burn down, so he decides to go on crusade with his daddy for forgiveness.
It’s a tearful reunion with lots of swordplay, but it’s cut short by an ambush, about two dozen men who’ve come to kill our hero because he killed a priest who, though he was sleazy, probably didn’t deserve to be stabbed and set on fire. Qui-Gon Jinn refuses to give over his son, so the arrows start flying from everywhere, leaving me thinking, ‘are massed arrows really the best strategy to be using in a forest?’ But Ridley Scott is obsessed with arrows, so arrows it is. The crusaders lose two men, but kill everyone else, though Qui-Gon is injured. Luckily, he’s not chopped in half, so he gets to be around later to knight Orlando.
Orlando does get knighted, and he acquires a rival in the person of Guy of somewhere-or-other, a snooty French Templar who’s in line for the throne of Jerusalem. We know Guy is a bad person, because he’s rude and French and talks about God a lot. In fact, anytime anyone talks about God a lot in the movie, they’re bad. Orlando, who is struggling with religious doubt brought on by the death of his wife and child, is good, but not really very good at making you understand that he’s struggling with religious doubt unless he says outright, “I’m struggling with religious doubt,” but he does say it, so don’t worry. Then his dad dies, and they all decide to go see his lands in Jerusalem.
Unfortunately, there’s a weird plot device shipwreck. On the one hand, this is good. It shows that in the middle ages sailing on the sea wasn’t at all like taking a Carnival cruise, except for the sporadic outbreaks of dysentery. On the other hand, it’s only there so that Orlando can be the only survivor, and so that he can subsequently wander around in the desert and pull a thorn out of a lion’s paw. That is to say, it is so that he can save the life of an Arab who will later prove to be a great benefit to him, because Ridley Scott loves cliches almost about as much as he loves arrows.
Orlando finds civilization, regains his lands, and brings water to the desert. No, really. When he gets to his father’s lands, it’s all dry and dusty. After he personally starts digging for water with them, they find it and everything turns green. Apparently, no one thought to dig a well before Orlando showed up.
Then the resident hottie, Lady Sibylla, sister of the King of Jerusalem and wife of Guy of Jerkland shows up and throws herself at him. Really, it’s like she’s from the sex delivery service. Meanwhile, the evil Knights Templar, taking a break from hiding treasure in America and covering up the da Vinci Code, stir up trouble, eventually causing Saladin and the Muslims to raise an army to attack. It’s one of the conceits of the movie that the Muslims really didn’t want to fight, and they were provoked into it, which is lame, since Saladin spent nearly twenty years riding around telling everyone, ‘hey, I’m going to conquer Jerusalem again’.
Orlando rides out to face the infidels before the crusaders have gotten their act together, in one of those fights against overwhelming odds that you hear so much about these days. Unfortunately, his rag tag bunch of misfits doesn’t have a plan that’s so crazy it just might work, and he’s beaten. This is a good thing, though, because it allows the Arab he saved to save him, and it shows that he’s heroically dedicated to keeping “the people” safe. For reasons I don’t understand, “the people” would have been slaughtered by the Muslim army if he hadn’t attacked it and delayed it for all of ten minutes. Apparently, “the people” have no clue when they ought to get out of the way of an army.
The King of Jerusalem, a leper who wears this crazy Destro mask, manages to negotiate peace one last time before he dies. He tries to get Orlando to marry his sister (from the sex delivery service), but he won’t, because that would mean killing Guy. Apparently, it’s OK to kill priests who insult your wife, but not OK to kill clearly evil bastards before they take the throne. He has selective wussy modern movie morality, which clearly states ‘Thou Shalt Only Take Principled Stands When it is Dramatically Necessary That Thou Dost So’.
Guy takes the throne and leads an army to kill the Muslims. But apparently, Guy never learned about water, like Orlando, He-Who-Brings-Water-(And Hotness)-To-The-Desert, so the crusaders fight while thirsty and get killed. Now the Muslims and Saladin turn on Jerusalem, and it’s up to Orlando to defend the city for about an hour and a half of movie. Let me sum it up like this: arrows, fire, and heroic speeches. For any scene, pick two of the three elements and mix them together. Every time there’s a heroic speech, the movie grinds to a halt, because Orlando, God bless him, can’t summon up masculine swagger to save his perfectly tousled head. It’s like watching a kitten dressed up like George C. Scott’s Patton. Sure, the big flag is behind him, but everything he says falls flat–especially the part where he tells the defenders of Jerusalem that their holy sites don’t matter and that all religions are essentially crap. I think perhaps crusaders, even reluctant ones who are only there because they killed a priest who insulted their dead suicide wives, probably didn’t shout those things to big mobs with weapons, even if they might have secretly believed them. Call me crazy.
This is the big problem with the movie, and it only gets worse when the Archbishop of Jerusalem instructs people, fearing they’re all about to be captured, to ‘covert to the heathen faith and repent later’. This is supposed to show that he’s a craven fake, but not five minutes ago when Orlando was telling us, ‘all religions are bunk,’ we were supposed to see him as a champion of “the people” and a crack theological thinker.
After lots of fighting, Orlando manages to negotiate a truce that allows the crusaders and all the Christians to flee the city and head back to Christian lands. He hooks up with the queen, too. Then they live happily ever after in his old burnt down blacksmith’s shack, but not after he refuses the call of crusader leader Richard the Lion Heart, who shows up at his shack so that he can do just that.
An end placard tells us that they fought more crusades, and that even today there is conflict between Christian and Muslim in the holy land. In case you’ve never seen the news. Thank you, Ridley Scott.
So, did I like the movie? Sure. But it was just your standard summer movie, a package of cliches playing themselves out to a booming orchestral score and lots of bloodshed. It wasn’t a good movie, and it was a pretty crap medieval movie, but it had its moments. Obviously, it’s full of crap history, but nowhere near as much crap history as that King Arthur movie that I still haven’t gotten around to talking about.
*I propose a 15-year moratorium on the phrase “stranger in a strange land.” Who’s with me?
**Thinking up funny nicknames is taxing.