The long awaited sequel to Braveheart has arrived! Not really, but Outlaw King is likely to be the closest we will ever get to a follow-up to the 1995 Mel Gibson classic. It follows Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) shortly after the death of William Wallace and the quenching of the latest Scottish uprising. Robert has just been forced to kneel to the King of England (Stephen Dillane), and his father has just died. All of these events coalesce with Robert rising up against the English tyranny and claiming himself as the King of Scotland.
The one thing this film does better than Braveheart is that it is considerably more historically accurate. Braveheart is an excellent film, but let’s face it, almost nothing depicted on screen actually occurred. Outlaw King has considerably more accuracy, and while there are some obvious liberties taken here and there, it gets the general gist of things correct. Unfortunately, this may be the only aspect of this film that truly improves upon Braveheart.
That’s not to say this movie is completely worthless, because it’s actually not bad. In fact, it’s actually very good at times. One of those times is the very opening scene, which introduces all of the main characters in one long nine minute shot. It really gives of glimpse of the immaculate set design that went into this film, and it is insanely well shot. In fact, the absolute best thing about Outlaw King is the combination of cinematography and production design. Even when some scenes can be kind of boring thematically, this film looks positively gorgeous. Director of Photography Barry Ackroyd (Captain Phillips, The Hurt Locker) really outdoes himself with this one. The battle scenes (though tone-deaf, but we’ll get to that later) are fully realized and incredibly gritty, and all of that is due to both the incredible set design and cinematography.
Director David Mackenzie also shows he is not a one-off director here. He has to follow up his previous film, Hell or High Water, which is one of the best films of 2016. He doesn’t get anywhere near that level of suspense or expertise, but it is easy to see that the talent is still there, especially in some of the quieter scenes, which I found to be far more chilling than the loud and bombastic war scenes.
Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce is another highlight, but did we honestly expect any different? Even when Pine is in an abysmal film (A Wrinkle in Time), he still manages to be the best part of it.
On the subject of acting, this unfortunately brings me to my nitpicks with Outlaw King. Many people often say that a movie is only as good as its villain. This is definitely not always true, but if a movie has an awful villain, than chances are it won’t succeed near as much as the filmmakers want it to. Unfortunately, Outlaw King falls under this spell. The main antagonist, in the end, is not the King of England: instead it is his son, Edward. Edward is an incompetent and sadistic baby who cannot keep his temper under control for more than half a second, which was honestly more funny than menacing. When the main villain is that incompetent, it is impossible to feel at all threatened by him, which means that throughout the movie there are essentially no stakes. Yes, I know that he could potentially die and be oppressed by the English, but the film made it feel as though the main characters were just wandering around Scotland fighting random battles.
This leads to another unfortunate aspect of this film: the battle scenes. They remind me of the action scenes in Michael Bay’s Transformers movies: they give the viewer no sense of what is happening. Random objects are flying around, people are getting hit by objects, blood is being sprayed, and I have no earthly idea what is happening. Whenever I look to a great medieval battle sequence, I look to the Battle of the Bastards sequence in Game of Thrones. All of the carnage is shown in complete clarity so that the audience can feel every blow that the main character receives. I could go on for days about the mastery of that sequence, but unfortunately Outlaw King does not follow any of these visual techniques.
My biggest complaint about Outlaw King is that it is simply boring. The movie seems to drag on far longer than its actual runtime, and the Netflix version isn’t even the full cut of the movie shown at the Toronto International Film Festival. Even during the action scenes I was checking the time, which is the last thing a filmmaker wants a viewer to be doing when they should be scared that the main character will violently perish.
Outlaw King is not a bad film. It just isn’t good either. I really do wish I was more invested in the events portrayed, but the film had a significant lack of suspense that I could not seem to get over while watching. I would recommend this for some casual viewing, but there’s an extremely graphic sex scene at the end of the first act, so I definitely wouldn’t recommend inviting your girlfriend/boyfriend over to Netflix & chill. If you’re a fan of Chris Pine or just war films in general than you might like Outlaw King, but if not, it’s probably not worth wasting your time.
by Joel Alexander–Entertainment Editor