Summary: The tale of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, as he leads his people against the English reign.
Arrows on fire, historical action, Tony Curran, Stephen Dillane- this was obviously in my queue! Outlaw King is a Netflix release and while there are quite a few gorgeous aesthetics that would do well on a larger screen, the story and pacing of Outlaw King makes it much more suited for a streaming service. Running at just around two hours, it’s an expedited story of Robert the Bruce, who was originally aligned with the English, married the King of England’s goddaughter, declared himself King of Scots after the death of William Wallace, killed his Scottish enemies loyal to England, was tracked by his own people, and led a couple of battles. It’s a fascinating history and one that would have benefitted by being a bit longer. That is a lot to cram into two hours, so most of this movie feels like a checklist for historical accuracy.
Now, if you are into medieval works, I think you’ll have a grand old time with this one. You will also like this movie if you are a big show-Stannis fan or just a fan of Stephen Dillane- he’s like a mix of Alan Rickman and Stannis here and it’s glorious. If neither of those things appeals to you but you enjoy drinking, I recommend watch this and take a drink every time Aaron Taylor-Johnson says, “DOUGLAS.” That’s literally all he says, so you’ll be nice and fuzzy by the end.
It doesn’t help that Outlaw King takes on a lot of tropes or interesting ideas that other, better movies in similar settings with a similarly structured cast led by a reluctant but capable hero have already done. It draws heavily from Westerns in terms of structure. And every scene just feels like something you’ve seen before. It’s highly reminiscent of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, takes a few cues from King Arthur and Kingdom of Heaven, uses a variant of the Trojan Horse, and snatches up a few actors from Game of Thrones. There’s even a shot of Dillane, as he waltzes down the aisle to some Celtic rock that immediately reads as King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Either the director is a huge fan of medieval action pieces or at the very least watched a lot, jotted down all the cool bits, and then made a mash-up of his own. It’s hard to place the tone that the movie wants to achieve- it wants to be fun and action heavy but at the same time, be taken seriously. It settles somewhere in the middle without really succeeding at either one.
Now the difference between Outlaw King and those movies that I just named is that there is some level of fun to those in between the action sequences, either visually or with the character dynamics and their dialogue. Visually, it aims for Battle of the Bastards, and for the most part it succeeds- but it lacks the emotional context and connections we have to those characters the battle would affect. That being said, the character development is piss poor, aside from Chris Pine’s Robert. The cast comes off as more of a group of featured players rather than an ensemble that provides Robert with groundedness and counsel. Just moments at each pit stop would have helped. For all future historical pieces, I demand at least one dialogue-heavy bonding scene. “I aim for the middle,” from King Arthur is so simple but it establishes at least three things about the character that says it as well as the people around him. As bad as Costner is in Prince of Thieves, it’s a movie worth watching at least once because of Alan Rickman’s reaction scenes. I don’t mind characters traveling from A to B to C or pulling small stunts, but there’s no statement moment post-event and it just moves onto the next checklist item.
These are shelved aside in favor of ambitious visuals- we get two campfire scenes that are devoted to singing tunes in Gaelic, there are countless drone shots of the landscape, and we get a few too many sweeping, tracking shots of the army on horseback. You know me- I live for this shit. For me to say that there is too much of X here will mean there is far too much of it for you.