Ever since Og claimed a cave as his own and fellow caveman Ak clubbed him over the head to dispute that fact, people have fought over land ownership ad naseum. And the more valuable the tract in terms of financial worth or cultural or religious significance, the more intense - and lengthy - such fighting can be.
Such has been the case for several millennia in the Middle East where Christian, Muslim and Jewish concerns have fought for control of Jerusalem and the surrounding environs. While such disputes and fighting occur to this day, some of the bloodiest and most historical clashes occurred during the various Christian forays to reclaim the land as theirs that became known as The Crusades.
Since they're filled with nothing but conflict -- the basic source of all drama -- they'd seem a perfect fit for the movies. Yet, Hollywood shied away from any such film for a long time (even Arnold Schwarzenegger couldn't get his project green-lit) due to cost, the logistics of staging the battles in a realistic fashion and the assumed lack of viewer interest in such matters from long, long ago. Then along came "Gladiator" and the "Lord of the Rings" films, and their wild success that spawned the likes of "Troy," "King Arthur," "Alexander" and now "Kingdom of Heaven."
An epic look at The Crusades (or just part of one of them to be accurate), the film stars one of the "Rings" heartthrobs and comes from the director of "Gladiator." While competently staged and told, the epic film suffers from three significant problems (and various smaller ones).
First and foremost, what should be its strongest hand turns out to be its Achilles heel -- if you don't mind the mixing of sword and sandals movie metaphors -- and that's Orlando Bloom in the lead role. While he's not awful in the part -- and is age appropriate for the story penned by William Monahan (making his feature debut) -- he just doesn't carry the film as well as, say, Russell Crowe in "Gladiator."
That's especially true when he's onscreen with his more seasoned costars. While Eva Green ("The Dreamers") can't do much with her weakly written princess/queen character (and oddly comes off like a bland version of Diane Kruger's Helen from "Troy"), the likes of Liam Neeson ('Kinsey," "Love Actually"), Jeremy Irons ("The Merchant of Venice," "Die Hard 3"), David Thewliss ("Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "Seven Years in Tibet") and others make Bloom look like what he is in comparison to them -- a relative rookie despite his blockbuster track record.
Those on the "other side" -- namely Ghassan Massoud (making his English language debut) as the Muslim leader Saladin -- are okay and thankfully avoid stereotypes, but there's not a lot of depth to most of them.
Unless one brings a pre-existing bias to the film, there's really no one to root for, resulting in Marton Csokas ("The Bourne Supremacy," "Timeline") and Brenda Gleeson ("Troy," "The Village") being the characters we root against, and that's clearly not as powerful as the preferred, other way around. Due to that, the script and Ridley Scott's direction, the picture is emotionally flat -- the second major problem -- and thus doesn't engage the viewer in anything but sheer spectacle.
And that leads to the third troublesome area -- namely that we've seen the "storm the castle" and "battles with thousands of participants" so many times already that what should have evoked reactions of "wow" will likely elicit stifled yawns and comments of "been there, seen that." Yes, it's all spectacularly staged, but the novelty is gone and Scott and his production team don't really offer anything particularly new or memorable to the clash and bash moments and material.
The film also suffers a bit from being too message heavy in terms of showing how bad and insane such conflict has been and continues to be. Characters refer to such matters in too much of a contemporary fashion, and thus such dialogue and the overall thematic thrust stick out like sore thumbs in relation to the rest of the offering.
The other visible flaw is the unnecessary use of slow motion footage both in and off the battlefields. If not for the presence of veteran Scott (who's made so many films so much better than this one), that and some rough editing would make one think somebody chopped it up after the first cut. Otherwise, the tech credits - cinematography and art, production & costume design, etc. -- are all top notch.
I just kept wishing the story and especially the main character could be described the same way. If you've never seen any of its epic predecessors, the film might seem like exciting stuff, particularly in the various battle sequences including the final siege of Jerusalem. For most everyone else, however, the emotionally flat picture will likely come off as a mediocre claimant for the swords and sandals crown that's arrived too late to be noted.