Rating: A… solid C+!
Synopsis: The “real” story of King Arthur without any magic, love triangle, and sense. Make sure you watch the director’s cut.
I’m dying to see the Guy Ritchie version… in a second run theater for $2! In the meantime, this drivel will suffice. If there’s something I love to watch, no matter how good or bad, it’s historical pieces with some action. Gangs of New York: Excellent. Kingdom of Heaven: Meh. Troy: Enjoyably laughable. King Arthur: So freaking bad with some real saving graces.
No, I’m not being sarcastic. Sometimes you just have to pop in something that is meant to be enjoyed without thinking too much about it. King Arthur is basically a checklist for everything you want when you hear the name “Jerry Bruckheimer” and is definitely not meant to be taken seriously. At all. For all of its faults, such as a preachy Clive Owen, disregarding physics and logic, Instagram filters, modern rhetoric, a pirate villain who waves away any sort of accent, and Til Schweiger’s beard, there are some treasures to behold in this. You know what’s not one of those treasures? The story, which claims to be historically accurate (it’s not). People covered in blue paint (and possibly poop). Also, brace yourselves for some piss poor dialogue (hilarious, nonetheless) and chronology that makes little sense (Keira Knightley has a broken hand but can still fire a bow and arrow a day later). It’s like the writer wanted a more realistic Arthur, Wikipedia-ed something about Romans, got bored after getting to all the weapons, and went to see if he could make a trebuchet.
Anything you know about the myth, just forget it. There’s barely a round table, Guinevere is only slightly interested in Lancelot, Merlin is a treehugger without magic powers, Arthur pulls his sword from a grave and not a stone, and there’s a lot of walking. And flesh wounds! Lots of ‘em!
The actors are having a good time and are appropriately snarky and casual, probably because they can’t believe some of the lines that are written. Unfortunately, there are exceptions to the fun- the leads. We get Owen, who wants FREEDOM and JUSTICE, even dropping the phrase, “BROTHERS IN ARMS”; Knightley can’t quite get her way around, speaking like Yoda (“What tomorrow brings… we cannot know”). She does get some sweet flaming arrows in the air, though I’m not a fan of the, uh… crop top? Whatever. I like Owen but I feel like he always has marbles in his mouth and Knightley is too teeth-talky for me, so I guess they work as the fated couple of Arthur and Guinevere. I tend to zone out during their parts and am rapt with attention otherwise.
If you can get through the first five to seven minutes of child chatter that takes itself waaaaayyyyy too seriously, strap yourself in and PREPARE FOR GLORY. Mads Mikkelsen’s first big American role that turned him into everyone’s favorite “Hey, I know that guy!” Pre-beaver Ray Winstone sticking his tongue and grunt-yelling his face off in the middle of a battle! Arrows ON FIRE flying through the air! A kickass score by Hans Zimmer before he started plagiarizing himself! Clive Owen flipping his sword in the air, catching it, and cutting down a member of the Blue Man Group- while on horseback! (This single moment is so good, I have even done the legwork of looking everywhere for a gif of this and cannot find it. Bah! Why is this entire movie not made into gifs!?) Watch that opening battle scene and tell me you don’t want to see more. Do I need to say it? The action is solid in King Arthur. We get three really well-shot, well-edited, well-choreographed battle scenes that have a satisfying amount of epic kills and surprisingly good stuntwork. It’s gritty and clean at the same time, with some pretty creative stuff coming out of 2004 before all the hyper-editing started. My personal favorite shot looks like the cameraman stuck a Go-Pro on a pike and told Knightley to run some people down. Battle of the Bastards definitely took some things away from this.
(Just make sure you watch the director’s cut. The theatrical takes away lots of the cool parts because there was fear over the violence and instead inserted random reshoots of jokey jokes with Winstone.)
Antoine Fuqua was in charge of this masterpiece- his most recent work is The Magnificent Seven remake, which was surprisingly entertaining (though not a true Western). You can see all the roots for that ensemble piece in King Arthur; the chemistry between the cast feels more genuine in King Arthur. Also, swords. Really, all you’re in for is a treat of a bunch of cool (possibly drunk) dudes who stayed too long at the Renaissance Faire, which can either be your worst nightmare or dream come true. I’m always a fan of secondary characters who get their moments and King Arthur just ODs on this like there’s no tomorrow, giving us plenty of fights and badass moments to ooh over. Winstone gets these witchy little wrist blades, Ioan Gruffudd gets two Legolas swords, and Ray Stevenson gets a bunch of huge axes. Mikkelsen is the big winner here: he’s a bird whisperer, knife fanatic, and can possibly teleport to spy on enemies. Also, his character may or may not be Asian… which they never get into nor do they ever explain any of the other character’s heritage or journey to Britain but who cares because of this:
Yeah. This whole movie is just moments of THAT.
Surprisingly, this movie has held up over time and is still so much fun to watch. I keep saying surprisingly because there are just so many things that should not work in this movie on paper but for some reason they do. It’s a highly ambitious flick that casually lands juuuuuuuuuuust somewhere between Troy and 300. Never a bad thing in my book.