As Netflix tries to climb its way into the world of film legitimacy through theatrically-released Netflix originals, fans rush to defend the quality of the company’s works as on-par with other production companies. While Netflix has produced a handful of great shows and movies, like any new production company, they have a hefty number of unwatchable disappointments, and still have to prove themselves to go toe to toe with their larger competitors. In releasing David Mackenzie’s Outlaw King (2018), though this film is more watchable than most Netflix originals, the experience isn’t worth getting off the couch and buying a ticket at the theater.
Based on historical events, Outlaw King follows the story of Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) as he leads Scotland in a war for independence against the English. The biggest issue this film faces is in the presentation of its story. The story of Outlaw King takes place after eight years of conflict between the Scottish and the English, where Robert is forced to marry Elizabeth de Burgh (Florence Pugh) as part of his father’s peace arrangements with the English forces. With the original cut of the film being over four hours long, and the director going on record saying he could’ve made this film “a three-part mini-series”, the lack of full historical context shows as the story’s pacing switches back and forth between a fast-paced medieval war film, and a slow, unpleasantly dry period piece. Though the film does do a decent job of setting up the coming war between the Scottish and English forces, it was hard not to think that this was the sequel to a film that didn’t exist.
As a result, the audience is only told how the English are oppressive rulers rather than seeing firsthand why the Scottish people are so hungry for freedom, with the violence of the English oppressors only becoming apparent once one of Robert’s friends is murdered and the war begins. This unfortunately makes the film feel like a more violent cut of a movie a high school history teacher would show to their class to cement a lesson. Beyond previous historical knowledge of the oppressive English rule and the base-level desire of wanting to see an end to the suffering brought on by the war partway through the film, there’s little reason to get invested in seeing our heroes succeed.
Much of the advertising tried to sell this film on its Game of Thrones levels of violence and nudity, and it certainly succeeds in one of those fronts. The violence in Outlaw King is visceral and abundant, and it’s the preceding action that leads to most of the film’s entertainment value. That being said, there does reach a point where I grew tired of hearing women scream as they get dragged off-screen to be raped while children cry as the world around them gets ransacked.
Additionally, the claims that this movie is full of sex and nudity are completely overblown. If you’re looking forward to seeing Chris Pine get his rocks off, be prepared for a transient sex scene and the briefest of fleeting glimpses at his junk through morning mist, otherwise you’ll probably be disappointed.
Overall, while Outlaw King was of greater quality than most of Netflix’s original productions, this low bar to vault only results in a watchable film of shaky quality. Though I hope Netflix goes on to produce more works of high quality, this release is maybe only worth watching as a desperate pregame for the violence in the next season of Game of Thrones.
George Ibarra is a Senior at Florida International University, pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in English with a minor in Sociology, along with Certificates in Exile Studies and Film Studies.