King Arthur (2004) / Adventure-Action
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, sensuality and some language
Running time: 126 min. / 140 min. director's cut
Cast: Clive Owen, Keira Knightley, Stellan Skarsgard, Ioan Gruffudd, Mads Mikkelsen, Joel Edgerton, Hugh Dancy, Ray Winstone, Ray Stevenson, Stephen Dilane, Til Schweiger, Sean Gilder, Pat Kinevane, Ivano Marescotti
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Screenplay: David Franzoni
Review published February 27, 2005
The legendary King Arthur's tales have been revised countless times over many years (centuries even), as legends frequently change depending on the teller or the tales and the times in which they are told. Many have tried to trace the origins of the stories to historical figures of the past, and with this all-new Jerry Bruckheimer (Bad Boys II, Pirates of the Caribbean) production, King Arthur is said to be warrior in the times of Ancient Rome(!). Perhaps one of the more amusing aspects of this noble ambitious undertaking is that the creators actually have the gall to try to push this forward as the "real story" of King Arthur, stripped of all magic and fantasy to show the man and his cohorts for who and what they really were. In fact, this account is not only as far removed from the original tales of King Arthur as perhaps any telling has been to date, but it is also incredibly historically inaccurate to the times in which the events purportedly took place.
According to this movie, the legend of King Arthur can be traced back to the times when Rome ruled most of the Western world, including many part of Britain itself. In order for men to find their freedom, they were indentured to the Roman army for many years, until they could have the freedom to do what they wish. One such man is Artorius (Clive Owen, The Bourne Identity), aka Arthur, a half-Brit who fought for Rome, even against his own people, along with his fellow countrymen, which included the likes of Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd, The Fantastic Four), Galahad (Hugh Dancy, Ella Enchanted), Gawain (Joel Edgerton, The Hard Word), and the rest of the knights of the Round Table. On the day that all would gain their freedom they are commissioned for one last adventure, rescuing a Roman priest and his family from the bloody hands of the savage Saxons, who have mounted an impressive army to fight the Roman infidels.
King Arthur may have started with a breath of inspiration, but after being churned through the ideas mill of the house of Bruckheimer, it ends up as a second-rate Lord of the Rings, except without the magic or mystique befitting the grandiose characters. Although it does start off in promising fashion, once the two warring factions are in place, it devolves into animalistic grunting and hollow prose that should never be heard outside of a pro wrestling arena. The camp value is unintentionally high, especially in the treatment of lady Guinevere (Keira Knightley, Love Actually), who is rescued in a broken and emaciated state from a torture chamber, only to surface as some sort of supreme warrior, as strong and daring as any of the men who have been hardened by nearly two decades of constant battles.
The screenplay is the work of David Franzoni, who also disregarded most of the history of Ancient Rome in a much more successful swordplay vehicle in the Best Picture winner, Gladiator. There are many similarities between the two films, not only from the very loose interpretations of history (i.e. near complete fabrications), but also in the larger than life characterizations and ridiculously overwrought battle sequences, where combat of Ancient times is show to be far more explosive and hi-tech than anything you'd see on a real battlefield today. Flaming arrows, elaborate traps, and even bombs are hurled as if raining down from the gods, with Arthur and co. handily taking on formidable enemies with ease, despite having less than a day to prepare one of the most impressive counter strikes ever witnessed in the history of man.
By stripping away the magic, it all becomes far more mundane than any story about legendary figures has a right to be, while at the same time, the more "realistic" telling is harder to swallow than ever before. King Arthur is a boring spectacle, laughably delivered, with only the darkly moody cinematography and a decent performance by Clive Owen to keep it from sinking into abysmal levels. Watch Braveheart, Gladiator, and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy if you thirst for the clash of armies and tales of valor, as this retread covers almost no territory not visited more successfully by the films this endeavor was so clearly crafted to emulate.
©2005 Vince Leo