David Mackenzie’s highly anticipated follow-up to Hell or High Water does not reach such great heights, but it’s a muddy good time half the time. Anchored by a tender performance by Chris Pine, and what has to be the weirdest, wildest, most peculiar, and most spectacular supporting performance of the year, Outlaw King isn’t bound to earth by the ruddy cliches of medieval epics. I mean, it is that. There are grand speeches before grotesque battle scenes, there are stern, unapproving fathers denigrating their psychotic offspring, there’s even that familiar story of one man raising an army to rise up in the face of tyranny. True as it is, it’s all so familiar indeed, and nearly so hackneyed were it not for Mackenzie and DP Ackroyd’s showy photography, and…wait for it, Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s James Douglas, a maniacal rebel in cahoots with Pine’s Robert the Bruce. He’s a quirky, quixotic motherfucker who wouldn’t deign fealty to the English, wouldn’t dare give up his name or his land, and wouldn’t give a lick for the trail of tears left behind in his wake. He’s a one-man killing machine, complete with mid-battle screaming, post-battle stretching, and the single greatest line of any character in recent memory. He’s surrounded by a less memorable film, one content to follow the path forged by Gladiator and Braveheart. In fact, note the William Wallace references and a character arc eerily similar to Aurelius Commodus. On the flip side, note the refreshing honesty between Robert and wife Elizabeth Burgh, played by Florence Pugh. She’s a woman married by treaty more than love, until her and Bruce form a gradual bond that’s a welcome bit of sweetness in the middle of so much monotony, the blood, guts, and burly mayhem. Outlaw King is the sort of brawny, meat-and-potatoes movie they don’t make anymore, and it’s saved from obscurity by an enjoyable sideshow.
PS. Pine’s full frontal is but another blink and you’ll miss it blip, so don’t get too excited, ladies.