Warning: This entire post is one giant spoiler, and it’s not nice. It’s riddled with blatant dry sarcasm and that’s being as pleasant as I can manage, so read at your own risk.
If you’re like me and love the brilliant directing style of Guy Ritchie (think Sherlock Holmes movies), then you’ll understand my sheer disappointment with this new addition to the (cough) “King Arthur” cinematic list. Where his signature influence shined through the most was in the way Arthur, played by the sexy as all get out, Charlie Hunnam (better known as Jax on Sons of Anarchy), could talk circles around just about anyone he came up against with a very ‘Holmes’ way of laying out a play-by-play of how things were going to go down before it had even started.
Apparently, this comes from Arthur growing up in a brothel, with a hardknocks education, gaining street smarts and cred in medieval Londinium, which is astoundingly larger, more diverse and ‘citified’ than it had actually been during the 5th century. Even as a child, he proved to be smarter than everyone else and that never changed – there are no humbling moments for the future king in this film.
Now, before I even really touch on the “Arthurian” inspired aspects of this movie – I have to say, I wasn’t at all that impressed with the lack of storyline beyond it, either. It was just interesting enough to keep watching – but there were no real meaty bits, it was all quite shallow, never delving deep enough for me to feel a lick of empathy for any of the characters or their woes. This was essentially a G-rated action movie (no graphic blood or gore) with special effects, that’s it. If that’s your thing – you’ll love it.
To see the potential in a story and not have it fulfilled, is possibly more disappointing than anything else. But from the very opening scene, the writers of this movie FAILED beyond epic proportions to successfully connect this to any known Arthurian tale or theory in existence. I guess they figured they could hide behind the thin veil of “inspired” without anyone getting pissy.
Right off the bat, the movie starts by showing us the All-Star line up. We’ve got Eric Bana playing Uther Pendragon, with Jude Law as his (un)faithful brother and Djimon Hounsou as his most loyal knight. What could possibly go wrong? Apparently even David Beckham was in this movie – but I must’ve been too distracted by the mountain sized elephants with Illuminati inspired pyramids on their backs to notice.
Opening scene, we have Uther Pendragon fighting the big baddy warlock controlling the before-mentioned titanic sized pachyderms – Mordred. Yes, you heard that right, Mordred. You know, the bastard son of Arthur and Morgan Le Fay (Morgana) who’s responsible for fatally wounding dear old dad and ending Camelot altogether? Yeah, same guy, only he’s not, because he’s killed by Uther before Arthur’s even old enough to potty train. But this isn’t just a battle between Uther and the future grandson he’ll now never have, it’s to explain the catalyst between the “people” and the “mages” who’d been living in harmony for centuries – sound familiar? It was called the rise of Christianity in Pagan Britain – a very historical and prevalent feature in the Arthurian Legends. Again, the writer’s were vaguely “inspired” to try and create some kind of storyline here, but it only lasted for about 5 minutes.
So, Mordred’s dead and the Mages are forced into hiding, and all is well in Camelot, except Uther wasn’t supposed to be so bad ass and actually win. His jealous, power-hungry brother, Scar…er…Loki…er…I mean, Vortigern had secretly made a pact with Mordred to kill Uther, so he could become the King of Camelot, himself.
I’m sure the writers were well aware of the option they had here to make Vortigern the name of the warlock defeated by Uther, and name his brother Mordred, instead, so at least there was SOME kind of blood relation between Mordred and Arthur, especially since his “uncle” is the antagonist to Arthur’s hero – they just decided not to. I don’t recall ever hearing about a Vortigern Pendragon in the Arthurian legends, but Vortigern is one of those really obscure, debated names in British history, therefore free game under creative license – and is played by Jude Law.
Now, I love Jude Law and always will – he’s a favorite actor of mine and the man is aging very well, I might add. Still hot. He gave this role his best effort, with what little he was given to work with, he strove to pull a couple of emotional punches and fully embrace his character’s narcissistic evilness. Especially, when we see him trudge down to the ‘cave’ bellow the ‘tower’ and sacrifice his beloved wife in order to call upon… Ursula the Sea Witch? I could’ve sworn that this being “Merlin’s Tower” it would be the cave where he’d left the dragons, but wtf do I know? This movie is merely “inspired”. I guess the CG department just couldn’t pull off dragons under castles in Britain after spending so much skill on ginormous African elephants with pyramids…in Britain.
We fast forward 30 years with a very Guy Ritchie montage of Arthur getting those street skills and building his coffers and gang of street ‘knights’ – because Arthur should never have been a young king, so let’s make him pushing 40 without a wife or heir or throne – and this is probably why he’s such a reluctant hero, because the life-expectancy of a male living in poverty in 5th century Britain had to be like 100-150 years. So, he’s got time, right? And how is this amazing story arc triggered? The lake in front of Camelot just suddenly drains without explanation to reveal a sword stuck in a stone.
Vortigern knows exactly which sword it is and how it got there and now he’s angry, because the fact that it’s been revealed can only mean that the son of Uther is still alive and kicking…asses…primarily of the Viking sort, who aren’t invading, pillaging or plundering, they’re there on business? Rather than wait for the bastard to find him, Vortigern sends his Stormtroopers…er…Blacklegs out to haul every boy, teen and man (the crown’s too heavy to manage simple arithmetic) to try the sword and when they fail, they get a consolation prize of being branded with a hot iron on their wrist. Arthur, being the impatient street king of thugs that he is, doesn’t want to be the only one left un-marred, so pushes his way right up to the front of the line and pulls the sword from the stone – but not without some severe side-affects that knocks him out cold – because, how else could he wake up in a dungeon cell for his big reveal “you are the true king of Camelot” moment? Duh.
I have to admit here, that I actually liked the way Arthur couldn’t just wield the sword. The idea that this thing is so powerful, it not only takes physical effort but a kind of ‘mental’ stability – was a plus – just not enough of a plus to make up for the rest.
And guess what sword it is? Excalibur. I know, I know… Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone were TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT SWORDS – but remember, this is just “inspired” by legend. Very, very loosely…and fraying at the ends. And hey, they squeezed in some rushed explanation with a quick flash of some Lady in the Lake to make it all reasonably plausible that they could of in fact been the same sword. 😐 Not buying it? Yeah, me neither.
Determined to keep the crown, the arrogant King John…er…Vortigern sets out to squash all hope in the people by executing their one true king in a public display of evilness – Robin and his merry men…dammit, I mean the “resistance” and “The Mage,” of course come in and save the day, and Arthur finds himself now their prisoner.
The Mage – literally that is the character’s name, I’m not even joking – has the power to control animals by seeing through their eyes … shit, where have I seen this before? (What, no Game of Thrones fans here?). Another montage of their long as hell journey to the hidden cave/liar of the Resistance ensues, where you think that maybe a love story is going to blossom between Arthur and the Mage, but it doesn’t. Remember, there’s no room for story here, only action and macho posturing!
In the cave we are reunited with Uther’s most trusted Knight, played by Djimon Hounsou who you think is going to call upon his mentor-type character from Gladiator, to impart some much needed wisdom and humbleness onto Arthur – but NOPE – Arthur’s already smarter, remember? Yet, whenever you have a group of people trying to push a reluctant hero into doing what’s right, there’s always that good cop, bad cop duo at the forefront. Sir Bedivere’s partner in this respect, turns out to be…. Littlefinger?
Okay, so I can see how this went. Poor Aidan Gillen is contacted by the head honchos, because who else can pull off those ground sweeping tunics? But he says “I’m tired of being typecast as the exceptionally intelligent, strategical, manipulative genius of a villain (cue screen shots of GoT and the Scorch Trials), I want to play a good guy for a change!” So, they make him stupid and he hits like a girl, but he can shoot a bow from 175 yards with unerring precision – and in a very un-Lord Baelish manner, his desire for vengeance supersedes his intellect, which leads to their discovery, followed by a Guy Ritchie meets Blair Witch Project escape through Londinium. Don’t ever say the man doesn’t have range as an actor now.
In between those two incidents, Arthur is dragged to the Land of the Lost…er…the Darklands – where everything is a hundred times bigger than him and he’s on the menu – to supposedly learn how to wield the sword. Or, get through the memories he has some mental blockage about, that will allow him to use it properly. And you think he manages it by the end of yet another montage – this one quite comical – but NOPE. So, when they all get cornered in their escape through Londinium, the sword says “screw this, I’m not waiting on you anymore” and takes over. Excalibur borrows Barry Allen’s metahuman quickness, turns Arthur into The Flash with Whitewalker eyes, and he doesn’t remember a thing – still, most everyone is able to escape.
But, to keep the scorecard even and the hero on the right trajectory, the bad guy wins a victory by managing to capture one of the wounded and torturing him for information (at least we have to assume that’s what happened, but it wasn’t shown, because then the audience might have actually felt something for one of the characters) and the Imperial Troops storm the Rebel base and everyone is murdered except the only two people Arthur could possibly care about – thus backing our reluctant hero right into that proverbial corner and giving him no choice but to fight for the crown he doesn’t want – by issuing the typical ransom note of “bring the sword, or the hostages die.” Bwahaha – again, the evil laugh has to be assumed, because it wasn’t shown.
There’s a giant snake, some venom voodoo stuff the Mage puts together and of course the epic ending battle, which happens in the predictable fashion of the hero coming a breath away from losing and instead of the bad guy just killing him, which would be the most true-to-character thing Vortigern could have done, he wanders away – I’m assuming to contemplate how he’s going to celebrate his assured victory – and just leaves Arthur lying there long enough to finally break that mental barrier at last and gain his full power, rising up to defeat the bad guy with renewed energy and purpose.
Then, the writers remembered: “Oh, snap, we’re supposed to be telling an Arthurian “inspired” story!” and we fast forward to the new King Arthur uncovering a round table and knighting his knights with Excalibur, but before it can just end there, the Vikings reappear to claim a bounty promised by Vortigern, because they come from that rare and now extinct Scandinavian tribe known as Das Wusses – more macho posturing ensues – and Arthur basically shames the Vikings into bowing before him – declaring that they are kneeling before England.
Um. What? Is this a joke?
In case anyone missed their history lessons, England is derived from the Old English word Englaland, which means “Land of the Angles” – the very invaders King Arthur was attributed with defending his homeland against, so it sure in hell would never have been a word he ever called his own kingdom. Ever. Arthur would’ve been a Celtic Briton, or in some theories half Roman, half Celtic, he would not have been from any of the Germanic “Angle, Anglo-Saxon” tribes that invaded, nor would he have ever heard the word Englaland, let alone England, uttered in his time. You’d think an entire English production, cast and crew would know at least THAT much about their own history!
I’m all for exploring different angles on well-known legends. I love being made to think of something a different way, pondering its plausibility, marveling over the possibilities of its accuracy. Marion Zimmer Bradley did an astounding job of this with the Avalon series (the Mists of Avalon). Even the 2004 King Arthur movie with Clive Owen as a Roman soldier named Artorius, Kiera Knightly playing a woad version of Guinevere, and the knights of the round table as Sarmatians forced into military servitude to Rome, was a very thought out “different, yet makes you wonder” approach to the legends.
I’m even all for being just entertained by a movie that has absolutely NO historical significance – BUT, if you’re going to attach a movie to a historical legend, then you damn well better OWN IT – not hide behind “inspired” or “based” upon as a way to insult the intelligence of your audience! If Guy Ritchie and the writers just wanted to make an action movie set in medieval times then they should’ve just done it by making up their own character names and back stories. This movie was a mockery of both the Arthurian Legends and British history from the word go. It’s just too bad so many big names are attached to it. Though, I guess that’s what happens when you can’t make a movie stand on its own.
Fine print: All of the photos in this post were found on the internet for visual purposes only, I do not claim any rights to them, and no copyright infringement was intended.