The director of Training Day and the most popular producer of all time have teamed up to give us what the previews claim is a "historically accurate" portrayal of King Arthur, his knights and Guinevere. Someone should sue them for false advertising.
King Arthur, of course, presents the story of Arthur (though interchangeably he is called Artorius for added effect) as a British-Roman warrior who, along with his small band of loyal knights, protects the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire from the natives to the north, who all like to paint themselves blue and act like psychopaths. Unfortunately for Arthur, the movie has decidedly been set in the 5th century AD, which means that the Roman Empire is on its last breath and that they are pulling out of Britain. With the Saxons invading from the north, Arthur has to chose between the Romans and his Christian faith and the true people of his home, whom include the warriors that he has been fighting for nearly two decades.
Very little is known about the true Arthur, and there is still much skepticism as to whether he really did ever exist. No one really knows for sure, but those involved in making this movie figured that they could throw out all of the mythical stuff - like Merlin being a wizard and Arthur pulling Excalibur from a rock - and make the story rather gritty so that they could claim in the advertisements that this movie is "based on what truly happened." It's all a bunch of bull, really, but I must commend director Antoine Fuqua and screenwriter David Franzoni for stretching some concepts so far that there could be no possible way that they could be fictional… Right?
What was most frustrating about this movie is that the creators of this movie go to such lengths to try to trick us into thinking that what we are watching is a true story, while we all know that there is very little water under the bridge. Most annoying is the portrayal of Guinevere, done by Kiera Knightley. There is nothing wrong with Knightley's performance - she did what she was asked to do - and she looks good in medieval dress, but just because we are in the day of women empowerment and women-kicking-ass-on-screen does not mean that every movie has to reflect those ideals. I have no problem seeing Guinevere (the movie never explains whether she is a princess or any kind of royalty) shooting a bow and arrow, but when she dons her absolutely dreadful war gear and starts killing men by the dozens with a sword, I had to scoff. It's just not realistic.
There are also a lot of cheesy parts that take away from the credibility of King Arthur. In the very first scene, as a young Lancelot is being taken away from his family by the Roman Empire, the entire village shouts out his name in unison. It just sounds lame. Amazingly, every time a character shouts in the movie there is something wrong, and it really does take away from the overall impact of the film. There is also a scene where the unthreatening and uninspiring villain of the film, played by Stellan Skarsgaard, thumps his hands against his chest as a sign to his fighters to prepare for battle. My roommate and I were cracking up. It was that bad. Furthermore, every scene with Merlin (Stephen Dillane) seemed like something out of a TV movie.
On the good side, for a summer action movie, King Arthur is entertaining enough, with a few battle scenes and so on for so forth. I've seen better, but I've seen many far worse. The battle scenes have their moments, but, compared to Braveheart or many of the other classic battle films, it seems lackluster. The scenes have obviously been edited to get a PG-13 rating, to a point where there is unbelievably very little blood. At times, the battle sequences are edited so much that they look like they were filmed in someone's backyard (meaning it does not appear that anyone actually is striking anyone else with swords).
Clive Owen, who many are screaming about to take over the reigns in the James Bond franchise, puts in a good effort as King Arthur - he is really enjoyable to watch and a deep character that is easy to connect with. Unfortunately, the rest of the knights are extremely underdeveloped, especially Lancelot.
It would have been nice to see more dynamics between Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. The relationship between Arthur and Guinevere is never really fleshed out, unless you count the dull sex scene that the two engage in. Fuqua also hints at some kind of non-physical bond between Guinevere and Lancelot, though he doesn't develop it to the point where it becomes interesting.
King Arthur can easily be compared to Troy in that, if done right under the right conditions, it could have been epic, but instead lacks the guts or brains to rise above mediocrity. It is fun enough to watch, but with more blood, more character development and less blatant attempts to appear to be non-fictional it could have been much better.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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