King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

There are few movies of late that I have dared hope greatness from. A movie set in Arthur’s, uh… Londinium… was one such movie.

 

Start of the plot:

Some powerful mage almost destroys some powerful kingdom which was supposedly protected by some king with some incredibly powerful magical sword. The mage is piloting some siege elephant (which is so incredibly massive that it shows that Guy Ritchie probably hasn’t actually seen an elephant before), but he then dies without even pretending to fight back, even though it was his siege against what was apparently some last resisting stronghold.

The night after this apparently-hard-fought victory, the charismatic, well-loved, powerful-magic-wielding king is betrayed by some guy who gets nosebleeds while watching battles from afar. The king somehow has no friends, and is defeated without any real fight. His queen is also murdered. His son, floating away very slowly in front of his father’s defeater in an unprotected boat, is completely ignored so that there can be some further two hours of film.

During a minute of decently-done growing-up montage, the escaped son becomes a formiddable street fighter and brothel protector. He then goes into the room of some prostitute and hands her a pouch of coins he took from some Viking who’d beaten her.

Some guard knocks on the brothel door and tells the son that he beat up some protected guy and asks why, in response to which the son provides a Sherlock-Holmes retelling of how he woke up and then had some breakfast and then talked to some people and then talked to some other people and then talked to some people he’d forgotten to mention the first time and then talked to some other people and then cut some Viking’s braid off and then gave some coins to some beaten-up prostitute.

Then some tide goes out very quickly and the nosebleed-usurper gets worried because some sword in some stone is suddenly visible. He talks to some strange slithering part-woman creatures (technically cecaelii, but listed as “syrens” – a misspelling of “sirens” – in the credits), who tell him that he probably has to to kill someone and that they’ll need some sacrifice if he wants some more power. He’s building some tower that makes him stronger as it gets taller, though, so he files the thought away somewhere for a while.

The son is woken up by some merry-man companion who tells him to run because some guards want to catch and maybe even kill him. He gets out and then is nabbed by some patrol who takes him on some boat to take him to some previously-unmentioned branding ritual.

The son shoulders his way through to the front of some long, long line of people waiting to be branded and finds out that they are all supposed to try to pull some sword out of some stone first. He walks up and grabs the sword and pulls it out and falls asleep.

Then the movie tries to convince us that it’s woven a pretty smart tale thus far by having some guys who want to kill the son decide to wait for a while until he wakes up and some rebels are ready with a plan before they try some public execution for the son after killing some people he was close to.

From then on, the son tries to defeat the nosebleed guy.

 

Reaction:

It’d be lovely to have something nice to say about the film. I suppose it was nice to see Eric Bana playing Uther Pendragon, but apart from reappearing in some severely-recycled footage, he’s probably only on the screen for five unique minutes.

The story should have been easy to write. Arthur and Excalibur have been written about extensively. Not all stories are equal, sure, but where big budgets lie… so, too, should at least decent writing.

Scenes and dialogues change allegiance mid-film; sometimes jumping to gaudy, self-infatuated stop-start action sequences, sometimes taking refuge in face-locked chase sequences, sometimes panning across Middle-Earth landscapes, sometimes stooping to drug-bend-accentuation cinematography.

Characters are unloveable, apart from the ones that die at the start. They also (apart from a sullen mage who never changes) refuse to adhere to the logic of their own selves. Arthur, who has been seeking ways to beat up thugs and bullies ever since he escaped his parents’ death, gets upset that bullies and thugs still exist when he gets Excalibur and thinks that throwing the sword away will help things get better. The people who say they care about Arthur decide to tie him up and blindfold him and smack him around while telling him how much they care about him. Vortigern keeps killing his loved ones instead of killing the person he claims to want to kill, even though he is constantly provided with situations where he has the ability and power to do so. A mage (because mages have never been in film before and druids certainly weren’t a thing in Arthur’s time) displays stunning levels of power that could have been used to help things long before Arthur was found. Merlin simply refuses to show up.

Even the magical logic was confused. Aside from the aforementioned ignorance of the fact that it should have been druidry rather than magecraft, references are consistently made to towers that, the bigger they are, the stronger a mage’s magic is. Destroying the antagonist’s tower is in fact the crux of the protagonists’ plan to defeat him. But of the three characters who wield magic throughout the film, one is a woman who (perhaps to include silent feminism commentary) does not appear to have a tower, and another is Arthur, whose incredibly powerful magic stems from a sword that is probably two hundred times shorter than Vortigern’s tower. And yet Vortigern’s magic never matches either of theirs.

The film had a great cast. It had solid visual effects. It even had a brilliant musical score. It shouldn’t have been able to go wrong. But somehow, the movie kept refusing to grab hold of and run with its strengths. It even ignored the opportunity to be a decent non-Arthurian story. More’s the pity – historical fantasy set in England can be a lot of fun to watch.

As a retelling of the Arthurian legend, it falls far short of any recognizable mark. As a piece of standalone fiction, it… could possibly be submitted as part of a first draft.

 

Pros:

  • The Lord of the Rings footage
  • Sherlock Holmes footage
  • Sons of Anarchy footage
  • Star Wars footage
  • Tove Lo’s “Habits” music video footage
  • Robin Hood: Men in Tights footage
  • 300 footage

Cons:

  • None of the pros in their respective films
  • No Merlin
  • No Camelot
  • Druids replaced by mages
  • Story/character logical inconsistencies
  • Flashback expositional explanations for every unimportant question
  • No explanations for any important questions

Discrimination VS Overrepresentation

Discrimination sucks. Racial, sexual, intellectual, etc… it sucks. But discrimination is part of human nature. Everybody discriminates. Even the people who hate people who discriminate. They really need to pick up a history book or go to school or something. The most serious problem with discrimination, though, is the way it is applied (and how it is countered).

Should we show kindness to everyone? Yes. Do we have to like everyone? Nope. Do we have to tell everyone that we like everyone? Nope. Unless we’re super famous and want to make even more money. Doing so would be lying.

In my opinion, overrepresentation is a massive issue. It’s the way film and game industries tries to compensate the community for apparent discrimination. We’ve all seen videos where the sidekick simply has to be of African or (country-dependant) native descent. The world is swamped with videos and games like that. And we push that even further: the film industry is swamped with powerful women. Even when it doesn’t have to be. Not really sure why people advocate so strongly for leading female characters when there’s such a massive (and hooked) audience for Fifty Shades of Gray, but that’s another story altogether.

Do I have anything against African/native/female strength in film or games? Nope. What I’m against is games and film going out of their way to try and make such aspects fit. You don’t carve open a body simply to replace a functioning heart with another. Bodies go through initial rejection of the new part: “[medical science faces] problems of transplant rejection, during which the body has an immune response to the transplanted organ, possibly leading to transplant failure and the need to immediately remove the organ from the recipient”. The most obvious examples of this happening are when characters are remastered. Battlestar Galactica. Classic sci-fi series. The original TV show had a really good character named Starbuck. He was best buddies with the captain’s son, Apollo, and they went on many cool adventures together. A nice example of male comeraderie. For the new series, though, not only did Starbuck lose all of his characteristics, but he also underwent a dramatic sexual change. By some bizarre change of circumstances, Starbuck went from a cheerful, cheeky fellow to a violently aggressive young woman. Both characters are plausible and interesting in and of themselves, but neither needed to replace the other. I was devastated yesterday when I saw the trailer for Fantastic Four (2015) – Johnny is quite different. Obscenely so. In the original take (which really didn’t need patching), Chris Evans played a happy-go-lucky, cowboyesque Johnny. What was wrong with that? Purely the fact that he was white? Well, if that was what changed the character, that’s discrimination in and of itself. It’s also disappointing, because Chris Evans really did a fantastic job with that role. Sigh…

It doesn’t have to happen. Take a look at Game of Thrones – no transplant was made there. HBO usually handles fantasy very well. Does Eddard Stark’s captain of the guard come from the Carribean? Nope. If he did, a huge chunk of the story’s flavor would be lost. The cultures in George Martin’s world are largely racist. Transplanting characters for the sake of “political correctness” is a dangerous snare. I’m all for starting a story with many cultures and both genders planned in, but if we go back over a story and pick-and-replace characters purely to diversify things, that’s bad. A book where dinosaurs simply don’t exist shouldn’t add dinosaurs because a dinosaur complained of being underrepresented. (I’m not picking on Michael Crighton here.)

Oh, and the most amusing thing? People don’t need to pick on books or films or games for discrimination. There’s several million games and films to read, and there are too many books in the world to count. If you don’t like something, why discriminate against the author or studio? Go read, watch, or play something else!

In conclusion: if you want to make a story that promotes wider diversity, awesome. That’s great. But seriously, don’t just go around replacing characters in existing stories to do so. It’s way better to create a new story (yes, they do exist) than to rewrite old ones with transplanted characters. You can’t just use the same story model that perfectly fits one gender/race for everyone.