Do you ever get the feeling that Ridley Scott has a few things to answer for? Don’t get me wrong, he’s made numerous films I’d list amongst my all time favourites, but for the re-popularisation of the swords and sandals genre alone (and its sibling, swords and sorcery) I think somebody should possibly be having a word with him. Since his Oscar winning classic Gladiator (2000), it’s a genre which has been visited, revisited, and then revisited again for good measure on a multitude of occasions. Scott’s even done so himself, with Kingdom of Heaven (2005) and Robin Hood (2010), albeit to distinctly diminished returns each time.
It’s an easy formula. Add one grunting male lead, large quantities of “epic” swordplay, rustle up a soaring and emotional score, plonk it all into a vaguely historical and/or fantastical setting and you’re onto a winner, so it would seem. Gladiator led to a decade of lazy near-clones, with Troy (2004) and King Arthur (2004) amongst the big name releases. Whilst the films weren’t all bad necessarily, it soon became pretty clear that none of them were likely reach the exceptionally high standards of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece. Not that that has stopped filmmakers from trying nonetheless.
In the right hands, with the right script, these epics can be emotional juggernauts, as was the case with Gladiator. With the right visual eye, they be stylistic beauties, as with Zack Snyder’s 300. With neither a grasp on the emotionality nor the physicality, what you get is Kazuaki Kiriya’s Last Knights.
This surprisingly not straight-to-DVD B movie sees Clive Owen (The Knick) as Raiden, a commander on a mission to avenge his nobleman buddy Bartok (Morgan Freeman, Seven). Witness Clive Owen sulking over Morgan Freeman not having to see out the first act of the film for nearly the entire remainder of the runtime. Not only do we have barely any Freeman time, but we’re stuck with a moody hero figure who’s only slightly more pleasant to watch than the preposterous villain Geza (Aksel Hennie, Hercules).
Having learned nothing in the slightest about the characters, what are supposed to be emotionally fraught moments lack in weight. There’s simply no reason for us to care who lives and who dies and this is compounded by bizarre character choices which lead to one of the most truly baffling plot twists I’ve seen in recent years.
To give credit where credit is due, heading into the final stretch of the film there is one heist-llke set piece which almost begins to get the blood pumping. But even this is a short-lived tease at what might have been, as the uninspired combat sequences take hold once more and a forgettable ending sees the film dragged over the finish line.
It’s highly unlikely that Ridley Scott’s position atop the genre’s throne is under any sort of threat, and Last Knights will undoubtedly be destined to fade into obscurity…probably much like the film’s position on Messrs Freeman and Owen’s résumés.
Rating (out of 5):