Saturday, May 13, 2017

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword [2017]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) (2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (1 3/4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword [2017] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Guy Ritchie along with Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram, story by Joby Harold and David Dobkin) while perhaps "okay" as _simply_ ANOTHER "sword-and-sorcery adventure film" with poor King Arthur's "brand name" _pasted_  to it to "up sales," those of us who've spent a fair amount of time in our younger days actually researching (as teenagers / young adults do, or used to do...) the Arthurian Legends will find this current cinematic concoction anywhere from disappointing to outright offensive.

Yet, the opening scene of the film literally "throws down the gantlet" to Viewers (who've just paid $10-15 to see the film...): Arthur's father, Uther Pendragon [wikip] [IMDb] (played in this film by Eric Bana), is seen leading the defense of his LOTR-esque hillside citadel of Camelot [wikip] before an onslaught of GIANT / FEARSOME (200-300 foot tall) BATTLE ELEPHANTS (!!??) conjured up by the (in-this-film largely unseen but...) Evil Mage / Arthurian nemesis Mordred [wikip] [IMDb] (played in the film apparently by Rob Knighton).   

"GIANT / FEARSOME (200-300 foot tall) BATTLE ELEPHANTS (!!??) attacking CAMELOT (!!??), HOW'D THEY EVER GET (T)HERE?"  Well, ever fainting Aunt 'Pittipat' Hamilton (of Gone With the Wind [1939] fame...) the Carthaginian general Hannibal _did_ invade Roman-era Italy from Carthaginian Spain in the Second Punic War by famously crossing the Alps with actual BATTLE ELEPHANTS some centuries earlier.  So the image isn't completely anachronistically insane.  But it is a real ... stretch ;-).

Yet this both AWESOME and APPALLING opening scene (which twists / conflates all kinds of actual historical bits, stories, and legends together) is THE KEY TO THE FILM.  If the Viewer can get past this opening scene (and not walk-out...) one will probably stay for the rest.  It should be clear however, that this (re)telling of Arthur's story is a _sovereign entity_, its inventors clearly not caring to be bound by past tellings of the story or form.

And so we see young / future King Arthur being sent down (Moses style ...) by small cast-away boat from (legendary) Camelot to ... Londonium (London's actual name in Romano-British times) after his parents are murdered by Uther's Evil / duplicious (Loki-like) brother Vortigern (played by Jude Law), where he's raised in a brothel and makes friends with a TOTALLY ANACHRONISTIC (but kinda cool) CHINESE (!!??) dockworker / martial-arts bad-a named ... George (played by Tom Wu).

Eventually the late-20 / 30-something Arthur (played by Charlie Hunnam) comes to recognize his calling to reclaim his destiny as the rightful heir to the THRONE OF "ENGLAND" (!!??) -- whatever questions historians have had in their various attempts to search for the "Historical Arthur" in Legend, ALL ARE CERTAIN that "Arthur" would have been a Romano-British leader WHO ACTUALLY FOUGHT AGAINST THE ENCROACHMENTS OF INCOMING ANGLO-SAXONS (!!), hence why the oldest versions of the Arthurian legends come from the WELSH (of Western Britain) and the BRETON REFUGEES who settled after the establishment of Anglo-Saxon dominance over much of Britain in what is today (FRENCH) BRITTANY -- and much, much (sword / sorcery fighting) ensues ... 

Catholic / Christian viewers would also find it surprising (to appalling...) to see the COMPLETE EXPUNGING of Christianity from the current story. This is despite the simple reality that Roman Britain was very much Christian by the time of the "historical Arthur" with clearly the continued / still recent presence of Celtic Paganism personified in the presence of wizard / druid Merlin in the  Arthurian Legends ... Indeed, the Romano-British St. Patrick [wikip] (!!) who evangelized Ireland would have arguably lived before or been a contemporary of the "historical Arthur." And then Sir Thomas Mallory's [wikip] late 1400s Le Morte d'Arthur [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn], which I read as a bright-eyed enthusiastic 20 year-old, is practically a Catholic / future High Church Anglican devotional piece.

This simultaneously dumbed-down / anything-goes (dare-one-say "Trumpian"...) approach to the Arthurian Legends makes for a rather _silly_ story that still, on the whole remains reasonably entertaining (if one is willing to accept the knee-jerk expunging of Christianity from the story, this despite the inclusion of just about _everything else_ from GIANT 200 FOOT TALL CONJURED UP WAR ELEPHANTS to WILDLY ANACHRONISTIC CHINESE MARTIAL-ARTS EXPERTS).

Perhaps the best way to understand the film is to see it as doing to the Arthurian legends what the recent Robert Downey Jr starring Sherlock Holmes films did to the original Sherlock Holmes canon and the recent Chris Pine starring Star Trek films did to the Gene Roddenberry originals.

And Dear Readers, if you don't see the above characterization as much of a compliment, well, you get my point and ... have been ... warned ;-/

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