Prince of Persia, the movie, is a great advertisement for the game. Director Mike Newell retains the first-person perspective of a video game, which means that when Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) leaps across rooftops, the movie captures the joy of being uncatchable and the thrill of split-second strategy.
The qualities that make Prince of Persia a popular video game are what make parts of the movie good. Dastan and Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) banter fluently throughout daring escapes, fights, and even exposition scenes as they try to stop an evil mastermind from gaining control of time. Although it would be easy to make Dastan a plastic action figure, Gyllenhaal embodies the character and makes him real, with the sweat and emotion to prove it.
So long as this is a road trip movie-and it is, for roughly half of it-Prince of Persia is a lot of fun. The movie waits more than 40 minutes to dip into the magical aspect of the game, but when it does it starts to go downhill. The mystery of Dastan's father's death and the plot to destroy time are sufficient narrative for a game. But a plot that involves gratuitous killing (the PG-13 rating is almost entirely for violence) and a magic rock in the desert becomes pretty simplistic in a movie.
Tamina is the spiritual character in this narrative. She has a "divine covenant" to protect the "sandglass of the gods." Meanwhile, evil henchmen have broken the covenant and betrayed her secrets to Dastan's nemesis. The spiritual soup this creates doesn't get sorted out by the end of the movie, although Dastan apparently gains a sense of "spiritual awareness" that makes his personal journey worthwhile.
As a romance, the movie actually works well. The interaction between Gyllenhaal and Arterton flows naturally, and by the time the two kiss they seem to have earned it. Too bad the movie was not more selective about which video game elements to include and which to trim out.