Tuesday, May 23, 2017

King Arthur Movie Review: A New Take On Retelling The Arthurian Legend With Stunning Special Effects

 THERE HAVE been many movies about the Arthurian legend, like “Knights of the Round Table” (1953) with Robert Taylor and Ava Gardner, “Excalibur” (1981) with Liam Neeson and Helen Mirren, “First Knight” (1995) with Sean Connery and Julia Ormond, “Prince Valiant” (1954) with Robert Wagner and (1997) with Stephen Moyer, and “King Arthur” (2004) with Clive Owen and Keira Knightley. There was also an animated film, “The Sword in the Stone” (1963) based on the classic “The Once and Future King” by T.H. White, a Broadway musical turned into film “Camelot” (1967), and a comedy, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975.)

We now have another retelling of the Arthurian legend in “King Arthur, the Legend of the Sword”, and the difference is that it is directed by Guy Ritchie (also co-writer of the screenplay), who had successful modernized versions of Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr., both big hits. His version is not based on any of the previous works on King Arthur but his own take on how the legendary king of Camelot started.


It is obviously an origin story preparing for a franchise, with the ending showing Arthur building the round table where he and his knights would congregate. But the possibility of a sequel is a big IF and depends on whether this first movie will be a box office hit. And judging from the results in the U.S., it's not very encouraging. It was made with the huge budget of $175 million but has earned only $22 million so far, quickly eclipsed by "Alien Covenant" that raked in $36 million just on its opening week.

Some of the elements in past Arthurian stories are here, notably the sword Excalibur, The Lady of the Lake, Mordred, Uther Pendragon. But Guinevere, Merlin and the other knights like Lancelot and Galahad have yet to show up. To show Arthur’s beginnings, we see him as a little boy who witnesses the death of his dad (Eric Bana) in the hands of his own brother, Vortigern (Jude Law), an echo of what happened to Simba in “The Lion King”.

Vortigern uses black magic for his evil schemes and connives with a three-faced witch with the body of a slimy octopus with countless tentacles. He also doesn’t hesitate to kill his own loved ones just to perpetuate himself in power as the King. The boy Arthur gets to escape from him by floating like Baby Moses on a small boat along the river Thames. He is later found and taken care of by ladies of the night in a brothel.

Many years later, the waters in a river recede and reveal the big rock where the sword Excalibur got stuck after Arthur’s father died. All males are brought to the site and whoever can pull out the sword from the stone will be revealed to be Vortigern’s missing nephew who then has to be killed for Vortigern to remain in power.

Of course, it is so easy for Arthur to pull out the sword as he is the true heir of the murdered king, so he is immediately held captive for a beheading. But there are secret forces aiming to help him, including the female magician who can control animals (Astrid Berges Frisbey), Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou), Chinese George (Tom Wu) and Goosefat Bill (Aidan Gillen of “Game of Thrones”). They help Arthur escape and they then lead the resistance to bring down Vortigern.
In telling the story, Ritchie uses brief and frequent flash forwards to keep things moving briskly.

Sometimes, the style of taking narrative jumps gets too flashy and some viewers who are more used to linear storytelling might be turned off by it. For action fans, Ritchie makes sure the film is throbbing with frenetic energy with plenty of fight scenes and battle scenes. Arthur is seen fighting all sorts of giant animals in one sequence.

Visually, the film’s look is a stunningly well realized Medieval setting and the special effects are spectacular and entertaining, like the gigantic elephants used in the opening battle sequence. The pacing is very fast, like the quick montage showing the boy Arthur growing up as a street kid raised by prostitutes in Londinium.

Visually, the film’s look is a stunningly well realized Medieval setting and the special effects are spectacular and entertaining, like the gigantic elephants used in the opening battle sequence. The pacing is very fast, like the quick montage showing the boy Arthur growing up as a street kid raised by prostitutes in Londinium.

Charlie Hunnam (“Pacific Rim”, “Crimson Peak”) is serviceable as King Arthur, but it’s as if there’s a missing element in him and we can’t help thinking that an actor with greater charisma would have done more wonders for the role.

Jude Law does better as the villain. He has worked well with Guy Ritchie before as Dr. Watson in the “Sherlock Holmes” films. In the 2003 movie, “Cold Mountain”, Jude was the lead actor and Hunnam was playing a small supporting role. Now, the tables have been turned and it’s Jude who's supporting Hunnam.

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