King Arthur (2004)

king arthur IMDb

I have a real problem with this film. It is not that it is terrible, it is not bad. It is just that the fact this movie exists and was not universally adored meant that we would not be able to get a proper King Arthur film with holy grails and knightly love triangles until everyone got the poor after taste of this average film out of their minds.

This is the supposedly true story of King Arthur (Clive Owen), who is now a Roman sent to defend the land of England. Arthur has lived most of his life in England fighting against a weird band of natives with a fondness for blue paint, led by the mysterious Merlin (Stephen Dillane). Arthur’s closest allies are the knights who fight by his side. They have all been forced to fight with him as a duty to the Romans since childhood and have reached the end of their tour before being granted their freedom by Rome. A Roman bishop requests Arthur and his men do one last mission before granting his knights their freedom. They are to travel north and rescue a priest before a ruthless group of Saxons can invade England. This is obviously danger filled. Along the way Arthur finds an imprisoned Guinevere (Keira Knightley) and starts knocking boots with her.

Like I said, this is not an awful film. Clive Owen is actually quite good as Arthur, as is Ioan Gruffudd as Lancelot. I am not sure why they decided to tell the ‘real’ story of King Arthur and his knights of the round table when the mythical tale was so much more exciting. It looks we are finally going to get a proper King Arthur story, directed by Guy Ritchie, but I feel like it would have come so much sooner if this movie did not come out and tank at the box office. The movie was made right when the Lord of the Rings films were coming out, and I feel like a mythical King Arthur movie could have really capitalised on that series’ popularity.

It was quite funny watching this film and seeing the knights, who have almost all gone to bigger and better things now. It seems strange to see them in such small roles here. The supporting cast includes Ray Winstone (Bors), Joel Edgerton (Gawain), Mads Mikkelson (Tristan), Hugh Dancy (Galahad) and Ray Stevenson (Dagonet) who have almost all gone on to do bigger things than a bit part in a King Arthur film.

King Arthur is not terrible, but I think more poorly of it than I probably should because it prevented us from getting the King Arthur film that we all deserve.

Rating: C-

King Arthur is a character I feel like I know well, but at the same time feel like I don’t really know at all. His story has been told and reinterpreted so many times that the legend has become a mainstay of Western art. But since I’ve never been all that interested in Arthurian legend it sort of goes in one ear and out the other. The broad strokes are there, but the details are pretty fuzzy.

My general lack of interest in King Arthur comes from the fact that it’s hard to find a version of the story that brings something truly unique to the (round) table. Most representations place him in the Medieval Period, complete with knights, armor, and deeds of chivalry. It gets boring quick, unless you do something wacky like turn the whole thing into a goofy comedy, a la Monty Python. So I was excited to see King Arthur, which purports to be the “true” story of the legend’s origins.

Turns out it isn’t really the true story. It plays fast and loose with the Arthurian legend it’s based upon, and takes major liberties with the historical facts it attempts to present. It’s a bit of a garbled mess in that regard, like so many epics of this sort are.

Still, the story itself isn’t that terrible. The film moves the setting further back in time to the early Middle Ages, so no knights or jousting. That was a nice change. I enjoyed that the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle is de-emphasized to the point where it’s almost non-existent. This was a smart move given all the new information this movie delivers. A second romantic subplot would have overcomplicated things. Guinevere is recast as a Celtic warrior, rather than the “damsel in distress” role she traditionally occupies. This was a nice touch, one that made the character more exciting and integral to the plot.

I guess the biggest issue with King Arthur isn’t the historical inaccuracies or the changes to the legend, it’s that the movie is kind of boring. Maybe it’s my pre-conceived notion that this story is boring and played out, but maybe it’s not. When you really get down to it, this movie feels like any other in the genre. It has all the same cookie cutter scenes and lines, and I feel like I’ve seen it a million times before.

Sorry, Arthur. You’re going to have to put more of a different spin on your story to really capture my attention.

Rating: C-

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