That said, King Arthur is remarkably embellished and farther removed from historical accuracy and from legendary adherence that only an Arthur-Virgin will walk away thinking what a great job everyone did. This story of Arturius (Artvrios???), which many Historians believe was the character who lent the legend his name, attempts to meld a vast many of the legends and the (assumed) facts into one quivering and shaky whole! The outcome much more resembles The Lord Of the Rings mixed with Gladiator than anything you've seen with King Arthur's bandied about name attached to it. Still, this film's worst crime isn't that it's not accurate to History or Legend, but that it claims to be a "True" story, and thusly has the right to carry with it all the pretension, preachy-ness and sanctimony that a faux-epic might force you to eat. You don't dare giggle at the over-acting because this really happened, right?
Naturally, the catalyst surrounds the remarkable beauty of Keira Knightley's Guinevere. As a Catalyst these guys could have done a lot worse, because I myself felt like spanking some Romans just for making those big brown eyes sad. Arthur is moved, the Knights are moved. And just to nod slightly to the legendary "Love Triangle" Lancelot (Ioan [pronounced like "Yohan"] Gruffudd) is as moved as moved can move! Of course Producer Jerry Bruckheimer insists on packing in more and more and more reasons to hate the Romans, including but not limited to the concept that Christianity is bad and Christians are bad! At least once every seven minutes we're reminded of this "Fact" until one person in the audience actually stood up and apologized individually to each of us for wearing a Crucifix!
Then... Just as you're ready to hate the Romans... King Arthur changes bad guys on you, and it's time to hate the Saxons! This is to set up the historical boondoggle of Badon Hill! In stark contrast to Arthur's troops, the Saxons look a lot more like members of Black Sabbath, Motorhead and Iron Maiden. These foreign invaders are bent upon conquering this island Britain in spite of the fact that every other character in the film has made damned clear that no one else wants it. To differentiate them further, all of the Saxons have Continental European Accents. All except actual Swede Stellan Skarsgård, who plays the Saxon Leader Cerdic the Entertainer. This guy sounds more like he's from Louisiana in his strange growled accent equal parts Michael Wincott and William Forsythe. At nine or twelve feet tall, Skarsgård clearly is attempting to look menacing and sadistic, however he manages to come across as bored and rather tired.
And I was too. It took a solid hour and fifteen minutes for the film to get going, and from that point it's a relatively scattershot and hit-and-miss action film with a lot of really neat ideas, a little bit of historical accuracy and a lot of stretches of overacting and low, slow points. The Battle scenes, though clearly seeking "Epic Status" are hard to follow (who is killing who?) and as shaky as an episode of Fox's Cops! Even so, the battles are pretty predictable and stock, and almost as realistic as the computer animated final battle in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones! Oh, and Christianity and Christians... bad!
Merlin has been relegated to the decidedly un-magical leader of the Woad/Pict/Kelt/Scots who seem to have no dearth of mobility, appearing on any side of Hadrian's (Great) Wall (of China) at any time the script calls for it, especially when things are looking bleak. The Woad/Pict/Kelt/Scots themselves differentiate their own bad selves greatly from the prog-rock Arthurian Knights and the headbanging Saxons by looking a lot like members of Bauhaus, the Sisters of Mercy and Siouxie and the Banshees. They look cool, all right, especially Keira, who is so toe-curlingly, eye-narrowingly, tear-jerkingly hot in the Keltic body paint (as opposed to her usual Revlon look) that it's almost worth buying the DVD just to watch her. Cool or not, though, the Woad/Pict/Kelt/Scots are mere plot contrivances with a bare nod to history or legend. For historical accuracy this is no Braveheart! But then, for historical accuracy, this is no Dragonheart! Oh, and Christianity and Christians are bad!
One of the hardest things to take here is the constant preaching that just about every character makes in their shared sanctimonious speech. From repeated diatribes against religion, to continual comments about freedom and duty, to the ponderous cries for diversity, I had to wonder if Franzoni had just read both a Heinlein book and a biography of Martin Luther King. By the fifth (of oh, so many) time someone or something was described as "Free" I silently thanked God that my Movie Ticket was "Free"!
I don't mean to seem too hard on this film, because it's not that bad. There are myriad worse things to spend your time on. Owen's performance is more layered and complex than the script calls for. He's a stand-out among a paper-thin cast of characters. The special effects are (as in most Bruckheimer productions) quite good, and there are a few interesting points of reference here. The Kelts as "Hidden Ones" again is especially welcome. The occasional historical spark is a nice surprise in an otherwise fictive film. Lastly I have to give a little credit here to the job that was done by Fuqua as director. King Arthur is a loose and rough amalgamation of history, all five (at least) Arthur-Prototypes and a great, great many of the legends. While a lot of the time these inclusions seem remarkably "Tacked On", it's hard to imagine that he had an easy time balancing this quaking and over-filled script. How it still manages to be so slow at times is beyond me.
So in short, Knightley hot, very hot. Christians, not good, no, no, not good! Christianity... no, bad, bad. Arthur good! Romans Bad! Freedom good. Saxons even worse than Romans! Diversity, so good. History, marginal! Starvation, bad. Britain, very bad, but somehow worth fighting for and dying for. Lancelot, good! Actors who resemble Jerry Bruckheimer, NEAT-O! Woad Hoards, good, and talented with body paint! Bruckheimer, Fuqua and Franzoni rich... very, very rich.
Don Simpson... dead.
Three Stars out of Five for King Arthur! The summer Movie Season is here all right, and this is definitely a "Jerry Bruckheimer Production"! A few less clichés and a lot less officious speechifying might have made this the Epic it wants to be! However, as it stands, it's no worse than any of your other "Summer Blockbusters" out there. Have fun with it, just don't assume it's really Untold True Story that Inspired a Legend. Hey, as a reader once wrote to me, it sure beats cleaning out the garage on a Saturday afternoon! Well, until the next Knightley film, I guess I'll see you in the next reel!
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But I guess this IS the Untold True Story that Inspired a Legend!
All these guys look like they're in bands... Wouldn't it be cool if the last scene was a BATTLE... OF THE BANDS?