Aladdin (2019) is a gritty reboot of the Disney animated musical franchise of the same name directed by British auteur Guy Ritchie. If you’re at all familiar with Ritchie’s oeuvre, you won’t be surprised that his take on Aladdin features a whole lot of bare-knuckle boxing. Bare-knuckle boxing has long been Guy Ritchie’s signature as a filmmaker, from when he made his name with fast-paced crime capers in the 90s to his more recent work in which he reinvigorated the well worn narratives of such classic characters as Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur by making them strip off their tops, grease up their bods, and jump in the ring for a goodly pounding.
Guy Ritchie’s passionate fanbase anticipates the release of his latest work by speculating how many minutes of the movie will be dedicated to shirtless ruffians punching one another into a bloody pulp, and how this will relate to the main plot, if at all. For this reason, revealing too much about the bare knuckle boxing in Aladdin would obviously qualify as a spoiler. But I will note that Ritchie takes full advantage of Genie’s magical powers by having him travel through time to compete in bare-knuckle boxing matches in a diverse range of historical and cultural contexts.
Aside from the numerous scenes of bare-knuckle boxing, what else does this fresh take on Aladdin have to offer? Like all the best contemporary cinema, Aladdin (2019) is steeped in nostalgia for the 1990s. Chief among Aladdin’s many loving tributes to what is widely considered the greatest decade of all time is the central presence of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air himself, Will Smith, who stars as Genie. No one encapsulates the 90s better than Smith, and watching just a few minutes of him on the big screen is enough to make you forget the past twenty years and fall back entirely into a pre-9/11 mindset.
Once firmly replanted in the Clinton era, I observed the many ways in which Aladdin (2019) draws inspiration from the best of that golden era of independent film, borrowing liberally from Ritchie’s own Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) as well as Fight Club (1999) and Pulp Fiction (1994). Like the lead in Lock, Stock, Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a small-time criminal and thief who gets in over his head as he meets a cast of increasingly colorful characters. Like the narrator of Fight Club encountering Tyler Durden, Aladdin’s life is changed when he meets the charismatic Genie, who is later revealed to be a figment of Aladdin’s opium-addled imagination onto which he projects his most daring impulses. And like Pulp Fiction, there is a memorable scene where Aladdin saves Princess Jasmin’s life after she overdoses on opium by stabbing her with a needle full of adrenaline.
My favorite part of the movie occurs following the first time Aladdin wins a bare-knuckle boxing match. It’s an elaborate musical number in which Genie sings a song called “Terrorism is Actually Good and Cool” and outlines a plan to set off bombs all over Agrabah in order to destabilize the regime of the Sultan that has been corrupted by the evil sorcerer Jafar (Ben Kingsley). The song was so convincing that I walked out of the movie theater ready to become a terrorist myself.
TL;DR – With as many bare-knuckling boxing matches as musical numbers, Guy Ritchie directs this gritty reboot of Aladdin starring Will Smith as a Tyler Durden-esque version of Genie.
What the rest of the critics are saying:
“It doesn’t have the best bare-knuckle boxing scenes in Guy Ritchie’s filmography, but it does have the most bare-knuckle boxing scenes of any movie he has made to date.” – Clark Peeper, USA Today
“Will Smith is back, baby, and he’s better than ever!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com
“The Aladdin remake’s unabashed pro-terrorism stance is truly startling.” – Belkina Mazona, IndieWire
“The most thrilling bare-knuckling boxing you will see on the big screen this year.” – Fertrude Zelzah, Cinemablend
“Finally, an Aladdin movie for grown-ups!” – Boedaksang Penakluklautan, Vox
“One wonders if bare-knuckle boxing will feature prominently in all of the movies of the newly announced One Thousand and One Nights cinematic universe.” – Nathaneal However, Esquire
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