I am a fan of the King Arthur legend. It went hand in hand with my dive into mythology when I was in grade school. I remember reading the translation of Le’ Morte D’Arthur and being lost in the grandeur of the story. I also remember watching Excalibur way before I should have and loving every minute. Seeing a new interpretation of this beloved favorite is something I always look forward too.
In addition to being a story of King Arthur, this movie had two other things that made me want to see it. I am a fan of Guy Ritchie . I love the aesthetic he brings to a movie. It will not be conventional and will be full of frenetic energy that captures the attention. I looked forward to seeing his interpretation of the legend. Then their is Charlie Hunnam. OMG! Those eyes and that presence. I had to see him as King Arthur.
Spoiler Warnings On!
This is not your standard King Arthur Legend. Mages, including Merlin, stand apart from humans and have lived in peace with the humans until the rise of Mordred. He rises up against the humans and begins to assault the shinning city of Camelot. He assaults the city with magical fire and giant elephants of great destructive power. His assault seems unstoppable as the city walls are breached and her soldiers are disintegrated. Uther Pendragon, ably played by Eric Bana, suits up and draws Excalibur and runs head-long at the elephant carrying Mordred.
In true action hero style, Uther scales the giant elephant and climbs into the howdah to confront Mordred. In a quintessential slow motion fight, we get to watch as magic and an artifact clash. Where this is never shown in previous movies, Excalibur is shown to be the artifact that it is touted to be as it shrugs off the assault of Mordred and allowing the forces of darkness to be routed.
It is with the clean up from the attempted coup that the true shadow over Camelot is revealed. Vortigern begins purging the land of mages. In secret, he strikes deals with dark forces and undertakes regicide. It is Uther’s final battle that seals the fate of a young Arthur. He is placed in a boat as his father strives to keep his son from facing the same fate as he. It is Arthur’s fate to be taken in by the ladies of a house of ill repute. We get to watch as he learns to survive the mean streets of Londinium and create his own shadow kingdom right under the nose of the false king.
I will admit that I love this movie. It gives me everything I want from a King Arthur Movie.
First, I love the new take on Arthur. Instead of being the son of a lesser night we are given a Arthur that had to learn to survive abuse at the hands of those stronger than him. We get to see this in the montage of him growing up. Instead of it creating a monster, it solidifies the core of chivalry in a very different manner. Instead of courtly love, it makes it about caring for those that you care about and doing all you can to protect them. This speaks to me.
I like that instead of Merlin, we have a female mage. Astrid Berges-Frisby does an excellent job of playing the enigmatic grey eminence that dances around answers and yet still needs Arthur to embrace whom he is. She brings a different energy to the part that was refreshing. I also liked that the take on the mages was much more elemental and druidic than presented in some of the previous movies.
The thing that was by far my favorite thing of this movie is Excalibur. In most every telling of this tale, it is a magical sword that determines to whom the crown will fall. Beyond that, it is just a piece of metal with a bit of provenance. Here, Excalibur is a mother fucking Artifact. Notice I used a capital A there. The sword when in use displays runes of power which is a trope, but I fucking love it. When Uther faces Mordred and Excalibur lights up displaying the runes lining the blade, I wanted to cheer. There is a scene where Arthur is cornered in the dojo in Londinium. His friends and supporters are about to be slaughtered by the King’s men. Arthur Steels himself and puts both hands on the hilt of the storm. He then becomes the eye of the storm that descends upon his enemies and devastates them. He then collapses as he is unable to fully handle the power that he holds.
It gets better! In greek mythological fashion, he has to undertake a katabasis! To wield Excalibur, He has to let go of the things that are holding him back. He must travel into the shadow lands and see that which he doesn’t want to see. He has to see the death of his father. See the nightmare that haunts his dreams ever night and causes him to shy from the touch of Excalibur.
To top it off, the design of the villain in the final fight is a wonderful homage to Frazzetta’s Slayer. So good!
King Arthur: Legend of the sword delivers everything I want from a King Arthur Movie. It has action, magic, intrigue, and drama. It presents a different view on Arthur that is a refreshing perspective. The acting is solid and the casting does a bit better to give a little more diversity to the legend. I love Djimon Hounsou as Bedivere. It qualifies for me as an excellent gamer movie. If you like table top RPGs, you will enjoy King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
Three bear paws out of four. I bearly recommend this movie!