So here in old blighty we have this sprawling legend of one Arthur Pendragon, King Arthur, King of the Britons. The King who is said to have defended Britain against the Saxon hordes in, umm…a long long long time ago. Arthur was supposed to have beaten the Saxons and established an empire over Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Norway and Gaul. Along with Arthur other apparent legends have also been scooped up and added such as Merlin, the Sword in the Stone (a different item to Excalibur in some tales), the lady in the lake, the Holy Grail and various knights such as Lancelot. All of this and much more comes under what is known as Arthurian legend.
In the opening battle sequence of this movie I was shocked, gob-smacked! Firstly the visuals are undoubtedly incredible, expected but even still, whoa! But wait what’s this? Gigantic battle elephants that wouldn’t look outta place in a Lord of the Rings or 300 movie?? Yep looks great but literally what the hell? Of course this is just the start of numerous gigantic animals we will see. Later on expect giant bats, snakes, rats, a large eagle and a whopping mega gigantic snake that actually eats people, oh yes.
But the other rather silly thing that happens, Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon is watching as his army is getting wiped out and Camelot is being destroyed. So he casually grabs his trusty sword Excalibur, gallops towards the giant battle elephants by horse taking out all enemies, leaps across a huge drop between Camelot’s ramparts and the elephant (the horse presumably falling to it death) and hacks his way into the huge portable armoured mount on top of the elephant. There he casually takes everyone out including his arch nemesis Mordred and wins the day. All this kinda leaves you wondering why he didn’t do this straight away, and why he even needs an army.
Its also around this point you start to notice the casting, and I’m gonna have to bring this up. Turns out in this Guy Ritchie directed version of events Sir Bedivere is played by Djimon Hounsou. Not only that but Sir Tristan is also portrayed by a black actor (Kingsley Ben-Adir), and in the end we get a knight who is of an Oriental background (not sure where, I’m guessing China). The fact he’s called George gives no clues but at least he seems to be created for the film. OK so let me be straight here, if Ritchie wanted to include diversity in this movie, that’s fine with me. It would be perfectly acceptable to have included some new characters that came from other realms, such as Africa, the Middle East or the Far East. In fact it would probably be relatively historically accurate. But to race swap two of Arthur knights, two Englishmen of legend, is honesty unforgivable.
As for the cast on the whole, its fine, nothing spectacular, but fine. Everyone speaks with a cockney accent which is completely bullshit but this is a Guy Ritchie movie after all. Apparently Ritchie thinks everyone in the UK has a cockney accent. There are a few scenes which are 100% pure Ritchie which was…awkward. You know what I mean, a group of fast talking cockneys with stupid names describing events which involve other folk with equally stupid names. Pretty sure no one was called Mike or Blue or ‘Goosefat Bill’; mind you I’m also pretty sure no one used the word ‘fuck’ back then either.
So its obvious that various elements of the Arthurian legend have been jettisoned or rejigged. This isn’t too much of a problem though because the Arthurian legend has many versions, angles, viewpoints etc…But for example, the actual existence of King Vortigern is as equally questionable as Arthur himself. Castles didn’t actually exist during Arthur’s life, they didn’t turn up for at least another 500 years. The same can also be said for armour. Characters such as Merlin and the knights of the round table are thought to be entirely fictional. The sword Excalibur is also thought to be entirely fictional. And alas all the giant creatures, watery squid witches, demon knights and supernatural/superhero abilities we see are of course all bullshit to make this movie more exciting.
And that’s the real problem here, this movie doesn’t really feel like a historical film about King Arthur. It feels more like a superhero movie with Arthur being an X-Men type character with a supernatural weapon. Ritchie has taken a historical piece and revamped it into a videogame/comicbook-esque action movie for the youngsters. Just look at the final battle between Arthur and this Mortal Kombat character in some dark alternate dimension. Literally the epitome of a modern day movie for youngsters. But that isn’t a problem per say, revamping old things can be good and this movie does have good elements. But this whole venture feels so contrived and artificial, the fact they deliberately left out Merlin, most of the main knights and the round table (tacked onto the ending) for future sequels was all too obvious. So obvious in fact I think that one factor really hurt the movie because people are getting really sick and tired of these predictable cinematic universe setups.
Apart from all that none of this makes a great deal of sense either. Why are there watery witches living in an underground rock pool in the bowels of the castle? What exactly are they supposed to be? Why do they need dead bodies? I presume they enabled King Vortigern to be able to turn into a demon knight? What was that alternate dimension? I thought it was simply a nightmare Arthur kept having, apparently not? So upon death Uther Pendragon turned himself into the stone that would hold the sword Excalibur…wut??? Or was that just another nightmare from Arthur’s mind?
Anyways, if you were expecting a film in the same spiritual fairytale-esque vein as John Boorman’s cult classic, you might be disappointed. This movie feels more like a loud, in-your-face Robin Hood tale with some fantasy monsters and a roided up King Arthur (who wears very natty stylish clothes including a quarter length coat!). The visuals are admittedly lavish and beautiful and there are some nice touches. Unfortunately its also a typical Guy Ritchie affair mixed with silly videogame-like traits which overall makes it feel, tone wise, very muddled.