KINGDOM OF HEAVEN Making the Crusades dreamy.
Kingdom of Heaven
dir. Scott
Opens Fri May 6
Various Theaters

Every "epic" film I can remember pits the underdog against an unbeatable enemy: A hero of purity and conviction against a giant blob of brute force. Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven monkeys with the formula a little--its enemy is a bit more complicated and compassionate than most--but in the end, the film fits the standard: Big, expensive, theatrically violent, thrilling, sad, and overall, worth the eight bucks.

Kingdom of Heaven attempts to recreate events involved with the Crusades of the 12th century--but historically speaking, the film's pretty questionable. Balian (a smoking Orlando Bloom) is, unbeknownst to him, the son of a lord, working as a blacksmith in a small village in France. His life has recently taken a turn for the worse, and he finds himself grumpy and alone, pounding molten iron in freezing cold temperatures. It seems like it's a good time for a life change, and so along comes Balian's pappy, Lord Godfrey (an earnest Liam Neeson), who begs Balian to join in a little father/son crusading in Jerusalem.

I should note that rather than spreading Christianity, the goal of Lord Godfrey's particular group is to keep the peace among Arabs and Bible-folk, protecting the weak and the poor while eking out a nice living in the Holy Land. This, of course, makes you passionate for Balian and Godfrey's cause--and throws the rest of the Crusades' religious crap to the side.

Kingdom of Heaven dabbles in some interesting themes, presents nuanced characters, and Orlando can't help but seduce the ladies. But really, the meat of the film is the battle scenes, which are menacing and brutal (and very similar to those in The Lord of the Rings). If you look past the historical gloss-overs and neat packaging, this is a pretty damn good epic--but if you're down on shoddy reporting, well then, forget Hollywood.