I was going to review this movie about a giant crocodile or possibly this film about a fellow sex addict named Caligula, but then I decided since I like that movie Excalibur so much, I should probably check out this movie about that same legend. Unfortunately, this picture follows the recent trend of placing myth within a historical context. The logic being that if you take out all the things that make such a story good (magicians, gods, naked broads, and so on) that, somehow, the story will be made better. Addition by subtraction, I guess. So, instead of a great sweeping tale of wonder and awe, we are given a realistic grime-soaked epic where Arthur is actually a Roman General near the end of their British occupation and Guinevere (Keira "do I look fat in this leaf-thong" Knightley) is the daughter of Merlin, who is, instead of a magician, the chief of some woodland savages. Instead of Richard Gere, Sir Lancelot is a foppish gay, etc. So, if you go in not expecting a story about a legend, but instead a "true" story about some, possibly, made up guy you will find much to enjoy.
This is a picture about destiny, fulfilling one's obligation, and the birth of a nation. Arthur and his Knights (Arthur is Christian, his Knights are pagan) have just fulfilled their contract to kill and maim for Rome. Now, they basically just want to go home and get laid, but Rome has one last job for them before they can retire. Rescue an important Roman family from the clutches of a Saxon army (led by Stellan "I'm just here for the paycheck and the free vacation" Skarsgard) and they will win their freedom.
I suppose I can only recommend this one if you care nothing about the accurate portrayal of history on film. Thankfully, I could really give a shit. Entertain me with some bloody action, a reasonably tight story, and bountiful boobs and I'm there. Unfortunately, the "bountiful boobs" are provided by Keira Knightley, who has none at all and doesn't even show what she does have.
At least there's some action, right? Well, yeah, there are some fights. Some very poorly shot fights. Lots of slow motion where you still can't tell what's happening. My favorite fight was when Arthur was fighting Cerdic (Skarsgard) and the warriors in the background were clearly just going through the motions (as if they didn't think they were even being filmed). Embarrassing.
The only standouts in the cast were Ray Winstone (always great) and the relatively unknown Ray Stevenson as two of Arthur's knights. Stevenson later appeared in the HBO show "Rome" where he stole most of his scenes as the loyal brute, Titus Pullo (and he got to bang Cleopatra before Caesar or Anthony). I'm really looking forward to him taking over the role of The Punisher from Thomas Jane this Christmas. He's perfect. Mr. Fantastic himself is Lancelot and is bland as ever. Not good when you're playing the most charismatic of the knights. I'm supposed to believe that Guinevere would let him put it in her? Don't worry, he doesn't in this picture since this is based on "history" and not myth. Whatever. Clive Owen was miscast as Arthur. I don't know, I just have trouble believing him as Arthurian. Something about Owen seems decidedly modern. Must be his severely limited range. It's kinda like casting Keitel as Judas I guess.
This one was directed by Antoine Fuqua who has made a terrific picture (Training Day) and some not so terrific ones (everything else). He's got a good eye (except for action, though maybe that is the fault of the second unit). I just wish he had chosen to make a real King Arthur movie. I saw his unrated director's cut (as soon as you slap the "unrated" label on something the masses swarm as if they expect to see double penetration or flying heads and geysers of blood. Sorry, this thing is still pretty tame in my opinion). Where the fuck is Morgana and Mordred? Why the fuck is Merlin the leader of a tribe of una-bombers? Fuck, Merlin shows up once or twice but never gives any sage advice. At least let the old bastard apply a "magic" balm to some wounds every once in a while. He lends his disheveled homeless army to Arthur for the final fight, but then just sits on the sidelines and watches. Although, in his defense, some of the broads in war paint are pretty smoking.
There are some interesting plot strands that are completely dropped like the conflict between Skarsgard and his son. The son doesn't seem happy when his father gets pissed and kills one of his own men. It's an interesting character moment but, then later, after enduring a humiliating mental beat down by his father the son knifes one of his own guys as well. So much for nobility. This guys an asshole too. It's a wonder that the bad guys can even field an army for the climactic showdown. This picture also has the requisite scene where two combatants spot each other across a crowded battlefield. They walk towards one another (in slow motion of course) ocassionally pausing to slay an enemy that gets in their way. If I was cast as an extra in this picture, I would have snuck up on one and knifed him in the back just to prove to the director how fucking stupid this cliche actually is.
It's possible I know nothing about history. Almost certain actually. Maybe Arthur did exist. Feel free to call me out on this in the comments. I just think it's sad that some kids might grow up watching this movie thinking Arthur was some grimey douche who fought an even grimier douche on some hill. Where's the fucking Magic? I can't wait for the Clash of the Titans remake where Perseus cuts off Medusa's head only to realize it's just a bitch with really thick dreadlocks.
I guess just stick with your Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven Unrated director's cut DVDs.