King Arthur Review

Just when you thought the legend of King Arthur had been tackled by filmmakers in every conceivable way, from John Boorman's bloody Excalibur to Monty Python And The Holy Grail, along comes Hollywood's number one action producer Jerry Bruckheimer with his own unique version. Bruckheimer's take, which the opening titles claim is based on archaeological evidence, is that Arthur was in fact a disillusioned Roman soldier who found a higher cause, Guinevere was an ass-kicking babe and the Knights of the Round Table were wisecracking sidekicks. In other words, this is Arthur as a Hollywood action hero fighting for freedom against the forces of evil - a spiritual brother to Maximus, William Wallace and Aragorn.

Arturius (Clive Owen), his full Roman name, is the commanding officer stationed at Hadrian's Wall, the northernmost point of the Roman Empire. Arthur is half-British and feels a strong sense of responsibility to the land he protects, even though his duty to Rome forces him to battle the warlike local tribes, notably the Woads led by the mysterious Merlin (Stephen Dillane). Helping Arthur keep the peace are his knights - Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), Bors (Ray Winstone), Galahad (Hugh Dancy), Gawain (Joel Edgerton), Dagonet (Ray Stevenson) and Tristan (Mads Mikkelsen). In this telling, the knights are conscripted soldiers from various provinces of the Empire, who are looking forward to their imminent discharge and return home. Instead, in the grand tradition of movie soldiers whose tours of duty are nearly up, they're ordered to go on one last mission.

Rome is about to withdraw from Britain and concentrate on defending its core territories against barbarian attacks. Before the Roman garrison can depart however, a relative of the Pope's must be collected from an estate far north of the Wall and escorted to safety. (Since Arthur and his elite warriors consider a journey into Woad country to be suicide, you may wonder how a small Roman outpost could survive smack in the middle of it). To make matters worse, an army of ten thousand Saxons has landed in Scotland and is marching south, murdering and pillaging as it travels, although not raping since its leader disapproves of his men breeding with Celts! Arthur and his knights reluctantly head north. Reaching the estate, they learn some ugly truths about their Roman masters and make the acquaintance of captured Celtic beauty Guinevere (Keira Knightley). As the Saxon army draws near, Arthur must also re-evaluate his relationship with the Woads.

The basic plot is surprisingly reminiscent of director Antoine Fuqua's last film, Tears Of The Sun. Both movies feature soldiers sent on a extraction mission behind enemy lines, who defy their superiors to save helpless civilians from the enemy. Like the Bruce Willis vehicle, King Arthur is efficient but uninspired entertainment and suffers from arriving on the heels of similar, more successful movies - in Tears Of The Sun's case, Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down; in King Arthur's case, Braveheart, Gladiator and Troy. Although I found the film diverting and frequently enjoyable despite its flaws, the final epic battle is so familiar, it's anticlimactic and even a little dull. It somehow lacks the impact of the battle scenes in other recent epics. Perhaps the PG-13 rating, which required editing around the impalings and amputations is to blame, although Peter Jackson overcame the same restrictions. Much more impressive and easily the action highlight of the film is the earlier skirmish on a frozen loch. It may not be very credible but it's inventive and exciting. The look of the film also deserves comment. Polish cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, who shot Black Hawk Down, gives the Irish locations a chilly magnificence and special effects are used sparingly and for the most part invisibly.

This is the first big action film for British actor Clive Owen, sometimes tipped as the next James Bond. The good news is the ruggedly handsome actor looks every inch an action hero. The bad news is his performance is grim and wooden, perhaps the result of Owen taking the role more seriously than the writing can withstand. Speaking his dialogue in a gloomy monotone, he's underwhelming and unconvincing. Keira Knightley is much more effective as Guinevere, bringing not only her looks but the infectious tomboy spunk that made her a star in Bend It Like Beckham and Pirates Of The Caribbean. Of Arthur's knights, only Bors emerges as a distinctive character. As played by Ray Winstone, he's history's first football hooligan. The rest look dashing and intense but it's hard to tell them apart. Their jokey banter doesn't distinguish them or give them much depth and, when characters die, we don't feel much for them. Even Lancelot, the knight at the heart of the Arthurian legend, is given little to do other than grumble and make eyes at Guinevere. More colourful are the Saxon villains, especially Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgård), a monstrous warrior king who has grown lethargic waiting for a worthy enemy to fight. He gets the film's best line. Meeting Arthur on the battlefield, he observes with genuine gratitude, "Finally, a man worth killing".



out of 10

Last updated: 19/04/2018 12:20:11

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