As far as fairy tales and legends go, the Arthurian legends aren’t what I’d call my favorite. Knights are great, sure, and the magic is really cool, but as a whole the legends never really grabbed me. (Maybe it’s because it felt like I couldn’t go a year in school without a unit on something medieval.) So then, what drew me to this trailer in particular? I don’t know: maybe I have a bit of Stockholm with these tales? …No, the reason is actually very simple. Despite all the distaste I’ve cultivated for Game of Thrones, I love Michael McElhatton (who plays Roose Bolton), so the moment he showed up in the trailer I knew that my chances of seeing this movie at some point had just risen by an almost unfathomable amount. In the end, though, this isn’t enough to keep King Arthur: Legend of the Sword from looking like if someone crossed A Knight’s Tale with a kegstand.
Legend of the Sword, while absolutely a re-telling of the old Arthurian legend, appears to follow the familiar tales closely enough that audiences won’t be left wondering what the hell is going on. In this rendition, rather than Arthur being raised either by the wizard Merlin or left as a ward to one of his father’s knights, Arthur appears to have been raised as a much lower-class citizen. A synopsis states:
The young Arthur runs the back streets of Londinium with his crew, not knowing his royal lineage until he draws the sword Excalibur from the stone. Instantly confronted by the sword’s influence, Arthur is forced to decide where to become involved with his power. Throwing in with the Resistance and an enigmatic young woman named Guinevere, he must learn to master the sword, face down his demons and unite the people to defeat the tyrant Vortigern — who murdered his parents and stole his crown — and become king.
I’m kind of iffy on calling the setting “Londinium”—sure, the Romans called it that, but I have a feeling that to a good proportion of the audience it’ll sound like a bad Steampunk name. I mean, I didn’t know about the Roman thing either. Still, I do think that this re-telling will be entertaining. The idea of having it be that Arthur survived on the streets as opposed to being raised by a knight offers an interesting space for social commentary–potentially an exploration on how the knights may not really be all that great. Will this film take that opportunity? Probably not. As entertaining as the film seems, I have a feeling that’s all that it will be. Of course, making a film that just wants to show cool sword fights and have a cocky protagonist isn’t bad in and of itself. Yet Legend of the Sword appears to suffer from the same stupid quandary that most historic media finds itself in: lack of representation. If you’re looking for buff white dudes or thin white ladies, man, you’re going to be set. The film does boast roles for both Djimon Hounsou (Korath from Guardians of the Galaxy) and Shakespearean actor Kingsley Ben-Adir, but this is far from diverse casting as a whole. Given that Idris Elba was offered a role which he didn’t end up taking (for an unknown reason), maybe actors and actresses of color are just steering clear of a trainwreck.
On a more aesthetic note, if there’s one trend in Hollywood that I wished would end, it would be all these gritty, darker reboots. It’s not even necessarily that the material itself is darker, but the color palettes for many newer re-tellings of old tales are washed out, dull, and hazy. I’m not sure if Game of Thrones started the trend, but after its success I’ve certainly noticed many more films and television shows adopting this aesthetic, so it’s really no surprise that Legend of the Sword’s done the same. While these color palettes and lack of aversion to things like dirt and blood now lend themselves to shorthand for “political betrayal” or even a long, painful hero’s journey, it doesn’t feel interesting. It feels like everything else on the silver screen/television. However, for a story so intertwined with magic, I really do hope that there are at least a few scenes that are bright and vibrant: just because a story is “serious” doesn’t mean that the world has to be devoid of color.
If you’re looking for a film that offers more than the status quo, Legend of the Sword doesn’t look to be that movie. However, if you’re looking for a film where King Arthur and co. kind of come off like the bro-iest bros that ever bro-ed, that may be more this film’s speed. I haven’t really seen anything about the women in the movie yet, but given current hetero trends I can only assume that Guinevere will be a sassy lady sidekick that will be smart, but not smart enough to threaten Arthur’s machismo, and that all the magical ladies will be designed as to show off their physical assets in the most male gaze-y way of all. In short, it looks like a trash movie, but a fun trash movie. If you’re looking for trash like this, the film comes out on May 12th, and know that I’ll be in that dumpster right beside you.