First off, I have seen and heard a few people criticize "Clash of Empires" for its historical inaccuracies and its anachronistic language. While both are valid points, I don't think anyone is approaching this slight adventure for groundbreaking realism. This plays very much like an old-fashioned Saturday morning serial with amateur theatrics, modern sensibilities, magic and mysticism, chaste romance, and overwrought fighting mayhem. The movie really misses the mark by branding itself with an R rating, because it truly feels like a kiddie flick. Why the harsh rating? CGI blood. It is silly and cheesy with few ambitions beyond being silly and cheesy. And yet, even on scaling back my expectations and realizing the true intent behind the narrative--I still didn't particularly think it was successful. I suppose if you can switch off your thinking cap, there are some small pleasures to be had here--I giggled once or twice at the sheer inanity. But if you're looking for a solid adult action entertainment, something with a bit more resonance, there are far better choices available.
I'm not going to spend too much time on the plot, but I will opine that the movie's title is a bit of a misnomer. There are really no empires clashing here, quite the contrary. A Roman prince is betrothed to a Chinese princess for political reasons and their wedding is to take place in Malaysia. Along the way to the nuptials, the Romans pick up a prisoner (who happens to be of royal descent, naturally) to assist them as a guide and everyone chats it up like they were good old friends with no cultural, social, economic, or language barriers of consequence. On arriving at their destination, both camps (Chinese and Roman) are besieged by the native warlord (with powers of sorcery) and the princess is captured. Next up? A rescue plan of derring-do. A mighty battle is waged--partly comical, partly bloody and everyone is surprisingly adept at intricate and special effects enhanced martial arts fighting. Do you suppose a happy end is in sight?
Let's be honest, the only thing of interest to many who will view this movie is the action sequences. Are they noteworthy? I'd say to an extent--but again, there are better example of this kind of film in the movie marketplace. Certain simple things (like zip lining) are hokey and fake, certain CGI (like rapidly healing wounds) are obvious and not particularly well done. But, to my mind, a fatal miscalculation in the action mayhem is that the scenes are sped up to unnatural proportions. I was more than willing to discount everything and just enjoy the orchestrations of the battle sequences. But the fast playback removed any authenticity to the proceedings and made everything appear fake. So the movie's primary selling point just didn't work for me--and that's a pretty big issue. Again, serious action addicts might be disappointed by the frivolous tone here. Perhaps this will be enjoyable for the kids, but it didn't make much of a mark with me (and I was ready to accept it on its own cheesy terms). KGHarris, 8/11.