Blame the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy for inciting new found interest amongst modern filmmakers for all things epic and medieval. This Jerry Bruckheimer produced and Antoine Fuqua directed picture makes some exaggerated claims about its authenticity and fact based approach, but after a tiring two hour watch does little to explain or elucidate the mystery surrounding its title character.
The tale of 'King Arthur' opens in 5th century England, where Rome's large empire is waning and slowly giving back control to the indigenous people of the land. Roman soldiers are however enlisting young lads into their army, from families whose lives they have spared. The process is generational and calls for trading heritage for survival. One such boy is Lancelot (the charming Ioan Gruffudd), who joins the Sarmatian knights, led by Arthur (Clive Owen) himself. For 15 years this pack of brave fighters does the bidding of their Roman lords and captors in Britain, but is given the opportunity for emancipation if they are able to perform one last task for the Roman bishop.
Sensing that they have been given a raw deal, the knights hesitantly make their way to a remote town that is under possible threat of an attack from invading Saxon warriors who are led by a bumbling, half asleep, hirsute Stellan Skarsgard as Cedric. Half way into the film enters Keira Knightley as feisty and fierce Guinevere, a shackled prisoner who is freed by Arthur and whom she eventually falls for, while Lancelot lustfully eyes her. The remainder of the running time assembles itself around the knights fighting for their rightful freedom against the invaders amid repetitiously laboured rhetoric about life, death, God, freedom and other purely situational talk.
The posters for 'Arthur' promise that this is 'The untold true story that inspired the legend'. What perplexes is how little exploration is done about the truth behind the legend. It surprisingly and quite conveniently eschews any of the controversies regarding the life of Arthur, be it about his birth or his death. In fact, the entire period covered in the film is seemingly only a small, albeit significant portion of Arthur's history. Those looking to learn or discover something about the enigmatic King will walk out disappointed, as will those with little penchant for historic authenticity and more interest in the entertainment value of the film.
Of its few battle scenes, only one stands out because of the tremendous excitement it generates with a cracking sheet of ice over a frozen lake. The remainder of the battle scenes though leave little impact because they have been so heavily edited to fit the lucrative PG-13 rating. It becomes fairly easy to lose interest in a bloodless battle between ferocious armies when axes and swords swing in full attack and kill with the viewer only witnessing bodies falling to the ground without any actual blow being made.
If you've noticed that I've made no mention of Merlin it is because he barely makes any noticeable presence. The sorcerer is here reduced to ringleader and military strategist, complete with dark commando camouflage and inexplicable speech pattern. If making a movie about Arthur's truth was this vital, then something different could have been tried instead of patching it together in such a conventional and glum way. I would have preferred the myth to this truth any day. - Faizan Rashid