Kingdom of Heaven
While Kingdom of Heaven is definitely a compelling slice of history revolving around the Crusades, it unfortunately whittles down to just another tiresome sword-clashing, blood-and-guts epic. These movies need to be spread out over a longer period of time so we can appreciate them more.
The Crusades were a series of religious wars in which the Christians tried to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims, who had conquered the Middle East in the 7th century. With the battle cry of ''God wills it!,'' thousands of Europeans answered the call and were able to retake the fabled Holy City in the 11th century. Kingdom of Heaven begins in 1186, between the Second and Third Crusades. A fragile peace prevails, mostly through the efforts of Jerusalem's enlightened Christian king, Baldwin IV (Edward Norton), and the military restraint of the legendary Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). But it's difficult to maintain the peace. There are extremists within the Christian brigades--known as the Knights Templar--who want to wipe every Muslim off the face of the Earth. On top of that, King Baldwin's health is failing. Once he's gone, war is sure to follow. If ever there was a need for a hero, this is the time. Enter the young French blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom), who is in deep despair over the loss of his family. He joins the Crusades after the father he never knew, Godfrey (Liam Neeson), comes back from Jerusalem and convinces him it's a quest worth fighting for. As Godfrey passes his sword to his son, he also passes on that sacred knightly oath: to protect the helpless, safeguard the peace, and work toward harmony between religions and cultures, so that a kingdom of heaven can flourish on earth. No pressure or anything, though.
Orlando Bloom carries his first major motion picture very well, easily handling the chores of being such a gallant, conscientious and morally upstanding knight. As Balian, the Troy costar plays the gamut. He broods over his lost wife and child, has father-son epiphanies, upholds his knightly duties on a regular basis, falls in love with a beautiful but troubled princess and, finally, bravely defends the Holy City from the encroaching Muslim army, thus becoming a legend. Not bad for a day's work, eh? There are even times, especially toward the end when Balian is standing before the denizens of Jerusalem, urging them to fight, when you swear you can see a little of Bloom's The Lord of the Rings alter-elf Legolas creep in. The supporting cast also does an adequate job painting a picture of some trying times. Chief among them: Jeremy Irons as King Baldwin's right-hand man Tiberias; Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy) as the evil leader of the Knights Templar; Massoud as the great warrior Saladin; and lovely Eva Green (The Dreamers) as Princess Sibylla, King Baldwin's sister, who captures our hero's heart but makes some bad choices with dire consequences.
Even if these sword-and-armor epics are all blending together, you've got to give props to the directors who make them. These films are massive undertakings and Kingdom of
Heaven, with the expert Ridley Scott at the helm, is no exception. The Oscar-winning director, of course, has had his fair share of recreating history, first with the classic Gladiator and then with the contemporary Black Hawk Down. But in recreating the Crusades, Scott faces his toughest challenge to date and takes on the responsibility very seriously. He is painstakingly meticulous with details, even as he is building a 12th-century Jerusalem or corralling 2,000 heavily costumed extras for the colossal climactic battle sequences. And it is always a good thing when a historical film can teach you something you may not have known, like what the heck the Crusades were really all about. No, Kingdom's biggest obstacle is timing. While it certainly has more substance than Alexander, it is not nearly as intense and stirring as The Lord of the Rings trilogy or the granddaddy of them all, Braveheart. Too many of its ilk has come before, and the concept has unfortunately worn thin.
Between the two of them, Ridley Scott and Orlando Bloom have picked up their swords for Gladiator, Troy and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. And that's the problem. If the intriguing but ultimately derivative Kingdom of Heaven had arrived before these recent period epics, it may have stood a better chance of enthralling us.