It’s a mystery to me how ‘Last Knights’ ever got made. Clearly there was money involved in the production and a lot of it. The cast is stacked with famous faces from around the world to maximize global audience appeal. You’d think that would mean the content is something special and worthy of combining all that talent into one place at one time. You’d be wrong in that assumption.
The movie is complete and total dullsville. It claims to be an action epic, but wastes the bulk of its running time on tedious conversation. It hints at perhaps being about political themes, but then does nothing with them. It wants to be a universal work of genre entertainment, but is ultimately just confusing and dull. ‘Last Knights’ is a big expensive disaster, pure and simple. The movie went so wrong you can’t help but wonder if it was really the result of some sort of multimillion dollar tax dodge.
‘Last Knights’ takes place in some vague period in the past that’s impossible to determine. It’s described as a time of great wars, but seems to be based on no actual war. It’s a tale of clans, masters and kingdoms that includes all nations on Earth in one single patch of land, with imagery stolen from samurai and medieval knight movies in equal measure. Clive Owen stars as Raiden, a great warrior who was once a disgraced peasant boy raised by Bartok (Morgan Freeman), a master of part of a kingdom or something. (It’s really hard to tell what the rules are in this stupid world.) Bartok is the one noble soul in this wacky land, with the gravely Freeman-esque tones to prove it – along with some ludicrous facial hair that undermines any sense of authority the actor attempts to give his character.
One day, Bartok is summoned to see a powerful henchman (Aksel Hennie) of this country’s benevolently evil emperor (Payman Maadi). The henchman wants a bribe and Bartok refuses to pay, so trouble brews. Eventually, the case is brought before the emperor himself, who forces Raiden to kill his noble master to set an example for everyone else in the land. Bartok’s part of the kingdom is then torn apart, his warriors led by Raiden are lost and broken. It seems like evil has truly won. There’s no chance whatsoever that a righteous act of vengeance could possibly be on the way, right? You know what? Who even cares?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where this movie went so disastrously wrong. The problems run as deep as the conception to the almost incomprehensible medieval world. This universe has no particular logic. It’s just a collection of visuals, ideas and story beats from other epic movies that the screenwriters hoped would make sense through familiarity. When you get past the fact that the movie’s world doesn’t make much sense, you then have to come to terms with the tiresome story. Well, perhaps “story” is too strong a word. That suggests the writers bothered to think one up, rather than merely following the step-by-step three act story guide from some cheap screenwriting handbook.
There’s not much logic or excitement to be found in the script, or even surprises. It’s just a series of perfunctory scenes written in flowery and vaguely old-timey dialogue that’s supposed to sound incredibly important. It’s not important, though. It’s all very stupid, eventually building up to a supposed narrative twist that’s obvious at least 30 minutes before it arrives, and then the filmmakers embarrassingly steal an image from the brilliant twist ending of ‘The Usual Suspects’ to nail it home. Honestly, these people should be ashamed of themselves.
A lot of money was spent on the movie, which explains how B-level stars from America, Britain, Denmark, Iran, South Korea, Israel, New Zealand and a few other countries signed on. That’s not to say the actors are particularly good or that they even try, of course. Most sleepwalk through the proceedings. Owen seems embarrassed to be involved, so he just broods and glowers in a manner presumably similar to how he felt on set. Freeman does his thing and proves that he doesn’t even have to be awake to do it anymore. The only actor who registers at all is Hennie, who mugs hard as a villain hoping to get attention for other English-language productions, but unfortunately it’s unlikely anyone will see this mess of a movie and support his career goals.
The travesty was directed by Japanese filmmaker Kazuaki Kiriya (‘Casshern’, ‘Goemon’), presumably because he’s made a few historical epics in the past and the producers hoped that he could turn their stupid screenplay into another one. Indeed, he makes the movie seem very expensive with extras strewn everywhere and big castles serving as settings. Unfortunately, he holds back almost all the action that’s supposed to be the selling point of this epic until the final half hour of the movie. When these action sequences finally arrive, they’re shot and staged decently, but by then it’s hard to care. With no reason to feel emotionally invested in these characters, it’s impossible to give two shits, or even one shit, about what happens to them. No, by then you’ll just be grateful that the arrival of violence means that this waste of time is finally coming to a close.
After that, you’ll stumble out of the theater wondering whether you’ve just wasted three or three-and-a-half hours of your life before being shocked to discover that ‘Last Knights’ is somehow less than two hours long. The movie feels far longer because it’s so damn tedious. There’s a chance that some other movie released in 2015 will be as bad as ‘Last Knights’, but it’s impossible to imagine that there will be anything worse.