More noise than signal

King Arthur

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

If nothing else you have to marvel at the audacity of the advertising campaign for King Arthur, the latest big budget summer outing from Jerry Bruckheimer’s pockets. The untold true story, it boldly claims, although by exactly what metric the events related here can be described as much other than complete guesswork is something left as an exercise for the reader. Perhaps the whacky invasion route this films Saxon hordes take happened in some version of reality, but not this one. But were rather getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we?

Arturius, or Arthur (Clive Owen) to his mates, leads a band of elite knights in servitude to the Empire of Rome. Fine and dandy, but Rome has had enough of our quaint backwater and is getting the hell out, bringing freedom to said brave knights. After the obligatory One Last Job, that is. Sent on a dangerous hike North of Hadrians wall to help a family of dignitaries escape a rapidly encroaching Saxon invasion force burning and pillaging their way across Britain, the exact geography of which it would be wise to avoid thinking too hard about.

As part of this little escapade, the merry band of brothers are waylaid by the native forces lead by Merlin, and wind up inadvertently helping Guinevere (Keira Knightley) escape her Roman captors. As part of some vague appeals to Arthur’s mixed heritage and the undeniable appeal of a largely starkers Mrs. Knightley in full on battle paint mode, our hero decides to lead the outnumbered native army against the Saxons, wins, and thus the legend is born.

As a theory on how Arthurian legend become so prevent it’s an interesting one, but claiming it as gospel truth seems rather silly and liable to have the more cynical and curmudgeonly amongst us (and there’s no shortage of them on this isle, I tells thee) dismiss the whole exercise with nary a moment’s thought. Truth be told, they aren’t missing a great deal. There’s also no shortage of similar tales in cinematic history, and just having Arthur and company shown in a different light doesn’t exactly magically make it any better. The trump card for movies of this ilk in recent times has been the battle scenes, with contemporaries such as Braveheart forgiven their fast and loose handling of historical accuracy on account of the exhilarating and somewhat nasty swordfests.

With a heavy heart we tell you that director Antoine Fuqua doesn’t so much hit a home run as fumble the ball, if you’ll forgive the mixed sporting analogies. This movie rather reminds me of old war movies before portraying it as a bloody hell became de rigure. One incident in such a film sticks with me always, as a Yankee G.I. bravely open the hatch of a Panzer, dropping a grenade inside. After a muffled explosion we cut back inside the tank to find…a couple of Krauts who look for all of the world like they’ve dozed off in front of the telly. No unsightly wounds, no hairs out of place, no sensation of contact having ever taken place. This last point afflicts King Arthur like a curse. In a market stuffed with convincing battles it stands out only by virtue of how very dated it feels.

The tremendously methodical pacing to everything doesn’t help to sweep anyone along, so there’s a better than average chance that punters will start getting distracted by historical accuracy niggles and getting back to the same question we’ve asked before – how true is this, exactly? It’s a film that desperately needs a raft of fantastic performances to keep the ship sailing on the correct course.

It gets performances just about good enough to keep in afloat, but it’s a long way short of full sail. Um, me hearties. You can normally depend on Owen to give a suitably intense performance even when hes not doing very much (see I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead), here he just seems intensely bored. It’s not much of an ensemble piece either, Ioan Gruffudd providing a somewhat whiny Lancelot with the charisma of a bag of wet dogs. Ray Winstone’s Bors is essentially Ray Winstone in body armor which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, providing at least some gumption in a movie where most seem to have given up.

As bad guys go, Stellan Skarsgard is a rather strange choice but at least he’s been paying attention to the mistakes of other evil-doers. Burn everything, kill everyone capable of holding a sword. Cuts down on the whole vengeance thing. Still, as we’re given little reasoning behind his invasion outing it’s difficult to see what the Saxons were hoping to get out of it apart from an opportunity to travel the world, meet interesting people, slaughter them and incinerate their villages. And indeed, why not.

The point of the film in general seems somewhat muddled, as if its not a swords ‘n’ sorcery type of film and it’s certainly not an accurate documentary it’s difficult to know exactly what the point was. To be an entertaining diversion for a few hours, I suppose. It almost works, and there’s certainly worse films out there but with a crowded market vying for your entertainment pound King Arthur does little to grab your attention. A rather wasted opportunity that provides neither visceral thrills, gripping narrative or top drawer acting performances. It’s not actually as bad as this review would seem to suggest, truth be told, but for the amount of cash lavished on it we like to think we’re entitled to something a little more polished and, well, better.