Much of film-watching is about expectations.
For example, I was expecting Widows to be great, but was disappointed to find out I wasn’t a fan.
Empirically, Netflix Originals are problematic. From the brilliant Apostle, down through lauded but frankly middling Beasts of No Nation and Annihilation, even further down with The Outsider to anything with Adam Sandler in and Bright, right at the bottom. So Outlaw King had me excited, but approaching with caution.
David MacKenzie‘s previous films, Hell or High Water and Starred Up and were both enjoyable – particular the latter. But I knew by this point to temper my quivering, tingly hopes. If you accept that Outlaw King is essentially Braveheart 2: The Bruce Strikes Back, with all the stuff you’d typically expect from a sequel (even though you know it isn’t one), it’s bone-crunching, chest-carving mayhem. And there’s a lot to enjoy.
But minor gripes first.
CGI blood spatter (popularised by the Spartacus TV show) can be an undesirable effect, often clearly thrown in to up the gore count. Once or twice it’s distracting, obviously splashed over the screen. However, for the most part, it’s used effectively. There was also one point where a soldier jumps on a clearly model horse, but I’m nit-picking.
Chris Pine’s Scottish accent is moderately disconcerting, although his 14th Century mullet is more so, taking about an hour to get used to. As for acting on the whole, well, it’s not really the point. Outlaw King isn’t a film with memorable, touching scenes or long monologues. There’s no flowery, showy dialogue. Outlaw King is all about the set pieces, which it does brilliantly.
The bloodletting is incredibly brutal – it scores highly for gore and shock value. It just depends on whether you like that or not, personally I love it. The battle scenes are wonderfully executed, particularly the final clash of armies.
The curtain closer is obviously derivative of Braveheart and The Battle of the Bastards, yet also very much its own – Outlaw King definitely one-upped the formers here. The gruesome effect of medieval weaponry is rarely displayed with such shocking candour. Again, for this writer, that added to the enjoyment.
It won’t be for everyone, but Outlaw King should sate the lust for the crimson stuff of a certain type of sadist. Carnage and bloody good fun.