King Arthur

The filmmakers behind the latest version of the King Arthur legend claim that theirs is the most historically accurate. In actuality, there is virtually no way of knowing who is correct and who is not, but one thing is for certain: this version strips away much of what made Arthur and his knights such an enduring legend. Gone is the magic of Merlin and Excalibur. The Round Table is barely there and most of the knights do not have enough time to establish personalities. The love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot never develops. Mallory, Tennyson, and White must all be rolling in their graves. King Arthur takes place a few hundred years before most of the conventional Arthurian myths do. If anything, it feels like more of an attempt to make a huge summer blockbuster than anything else. Shades of Gladiator and Braveheart constantly peek out, but overall, King Arthur just feels silly.

Britain is still in the hands of Rome, and Arthur (Clive Owen, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, Beyond Borders), a half Roman half Briton patrols with his loyal knights, forced into servitude from Sarmatia. Rome is preparing to withdraw from Britain, which will leave the Woads at the mercy of the Saxons. Before his knights can return home, the Empire forces them to travel into enemy territory to rescue a family close to the Pope (Arthur is a devout Christian, while his knights are pagan). There, he rescues Guinevere (Keira Knightley, Love Actually, Pirates of the Caribbean), an imprisoned Woad, who decides to join forces with them and turn into a bondage clad English Wonder Woman. Yes, this has silly written all over it. It all fits in quite well with producer Jerry Bruckheimer's (Bad Boys II, Pirates of the Caribbean) tendency to favor things big and loud over everything else. King Arthur is a mish-mash of big fight scenes, covering up many deficiencies in David Franzoni's (Gladiator, Amistad) erratic script.

For one, the characters are all over the place. Owen is the master of understatement. In many of his movies, he is the epitome of cool with his minimal style of acting, where deep gazes and a monotone delivery substitute for other things. As Arthur, he is dour and sullen. He fails to have an air of command, and looks pretty bored to be there, especially when the people around him seem to have so much more life. Like Knightley (who often appears more prominently than Owen in the advertising). Her role is patently ridiculous, but hey, she looks like she's having fun along the way. Saxon leader Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgard, Dogville, City of Ghosts) is equally maniacal, but doesn't look like he's having fun. The only knights to emerge with some sort of personality to identify themselves are Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd, Black Hawk Down, Very Annie Mary), because he narrates the film and everybody is waiting for a romance with Guinevere that never gets past a few stolen glances, and Bors (Ray Winstone, Cold Mountain, Last Orders), just because he is the loudest. The Woads are all paint-wearing crazy jungle people that fit more along the lines of the old stereotypes of Native Americans than anything probably over there in England.

Despite all of its superficiality and penchant for taking itself too seriously, director Antoine Fuqua (Tears of the Sun, Training Day) does make a pretty movie to look at. Arthur and his knights are suitably grimy, and the battles are big and expansive. There is a great scene were the Saxons confront Arthur, Guinevere, and the knights on a frozen lake. It looks great, but, like much of the rest of the film, is pretty stupid. This new revisionism turns Arthur more into a guerilla warrior, an exceptional soldier that can, with some help from his equally exceptional cohorts, triumph over huge odds. Fuqua and Franzoni have taken a classic story and removed all the elements that made it so memorable. They replaced those elements with bland, overly copied movie cliches that are already in too many movies.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
2 hours, 10 minutes, Rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, a scene of sensuality, and some language.

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