Gratuitous and Meaningless

I watched Outlaw King for Chris Pine’s peen.

There, I said it.

I’m sorry, but if a big part of the buzz surrounding your movie is that its lead actor drops trou and goes full frontal, that’s going to be the main reason people will flock to see it, especially the ones who otherwise wouldn’t care about a band of scrappy outlaws fighting to regain control of their own country. Like me. To be fair, I’m not the biggest fan of war movies. There’s only so much men, muck and dying that an easily bored consumer like me, up to my ears in possible content to watch, can stomach.

So yes, I spent most of the two hours and one minute runtime waiting for my reward. I don’t know what it is about movie star peen, but an episode of Bojack Horseman does come to mind. In its latest season, Bojack plays a noirish PI a la True Detective McConaughey, who, through a series of machinations gone awry, somehow ends up doing a scene where he is required to be stark naked as he changes a light bulb. It’s supposed to represent an honest look at the character, flaws and all but instead is obviously gratuitous and meaningless. Which is where Chris Pine’s peen comes in. Thank you for your bravery, Chris Pine, but it is gratuitous and meaningless. Not that I don’t appreciate it, or the guts it took to let it all hang out.

And yet. And yet. When the benchmark for a medieval Scottish highland fling such as this is Braveheart, the seminal Mel Gibson-helmed movie that masterfully combines romance, catchphrases, fantasy, shady backroom deals and noble men with stout hearts riding forth for glory and honour, expectations are going to be high. It’s got to be more than a Chris Pine peen (Chris Peen?) movie. It’s got to encapsulate the wonder, the magic, the determination of early Scotsmen and one man’s drive to unite the warring clans of Scotland.

What we get are bad haircuts, duels staged for unknown reasons – just as gratuitous and meaningless as random peen – and (for me, anyway) a distracting cast. As a hardcore Thronie, the sight of Stannis Baratheon, Jeor Mormont and Brynden Blackfish Tully in medieval Scottish drag is jarring. I know, I know, actors are more than the parts they play, but HBO succeeded in pushing these actors to inhabit their parts so well, it’s difficult for me to separate them from the characters they have played in Game of Thrones. Pine, Taylor-Johnson and Pugh do give powerhouse performances and it’s hard to look away when they are on screen.

While Netflix’s Outlaw King has manliness and nobles riding out for glory, it is sadly short on the romance and the backroom deals aren’t so much shady as they are desperate. It’s unfair to expect real life events to always be glamorous and fantastical, but too many things go unexplained. Why are there so many pointless duels? Why do all the old kings dying take place so suddenly and with barely any lead up? Why aren’t the Scots sufficiently shocked when their future king kills his rival in a church? Why does the hair on Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s beard not match his hair? Why are all the wigs so bad? What does it mean to raise the dragon and why does that sound like a euphemism for getting a boner?

Netflix gets a few things right – the quartered body of William Wallace nailed to a post in the town square, for one. It’s such an effective prop, it makes you believe the sight of it is enough to raise the ire of the Scots and incite riots. I had heard of the phrase “hanged, drawn and quartered,” but I’ve never really seen a fourth of someone’s body on display and I thought I had plumbed the depths of gore with The Walking Dead. There is also a scene that involves the swift punishment of Robert the Bruce’s younger brother c/o a sadistic Prince of Wales, which turns the stomach. Unlike Braveheart, which focused on Mel Gibson’s facial expressions and let the viewer’s imagination do the heavy lifting, this particular scene, scored by the wails of frightened women and children, is a searing punch to the gut. Lastly, the Battle of Bannockburn is claustrophobic, messy, chaotic and amazingly shot, giving the Battle of the Bastards a run for its cinematic money.

Still the story of Robert the Bruce and his fight to regain Scotland is too complicated by far for a two-hour movie. While the cast is able and the premise honourable, ultimately it falls far short of the standards set for movie epics. Too many questionable decisions and not enough concrete answers, and events that obviously took years and could’ve lent a lot more gravitas to the piece are skimmed over or compressed into minute sound bites. The performances are good, and the backdrop of Scotland is beautiful, but a movie is not based solely on crazed performances and an exotic locale, no matter how convincing the madness of the Black Douglas is. Neither can it be carried on the strength of one man’s peen, unless the peen belongs to Ron Jeremy, but that is another story.

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