When Vortigern transforms into his buff, skull-faced form and battles with Arthur, I was reminded of a video game battle, but one that was resolved too easily. There are also many moments in the film where people cast their heads back, jaws taut but slackened, and appear to simultaneously growl like a lion (or one of the dogs in the film that tersely bark with jowls flapping) and howl like a wolf. It's almost as if the movie wants people to feel everything some characters are, or it could be that it wants the audience to be entranced by the action, as the sensitivity to detail including sound and vibrations grabs you, and the focus on faces when they are either in agony or rushing hither and yon makes you wonder if this a found footage film where there are multiple cameras traveling with different people that capture all the nauseating hysteria.
This movie wouldn't have been half as engrossing if it wasn't for the music. There are patches of the movie that could work as music videos advertising for an actual film that is yet to come. In fact, the song "The Wild Wild Berry" from an actual trailer for the film is used in a couple spots with some of the exact same images.
Beside from the rapid pace that doesn't slow down and leave room for the movie to breathe and let in quieter moments that deepen the impact in a more subtle way, I struggled with how the story went with this version of Arthur. The movie focuses so much on the magic inherent in the tale that it neglects the humanity. I didn't have trouble believing in the power of Excalibur; the film flashes the sword's might all over the place and makes quite a big deal about it. What I had trouble swallowing was the man behind the sword. By the end of the film, I still wasn't convinced that he was king, that he had earned it and had the heart of the person from ancient legends and the best interests of the people at that heart. The guy's got spunk and bravery, but they seem to be inherent in him instead of something risen in him from his travels that make him a better person. This spunk and bravery up until near the very end of the film stinks of arrogance. And in the final battle against Vortigern, Arthur states that Vortigern is the one who made Arthur who he is. This bothered me. This seems to me not as if he is saying, "I was born into darkness and in it found the light to combat it and lead these people", but, "Darkness made me whom I am, and who I am and why I am here is because you brought this on yourself." It feels a bit vindictive and hurt, not strong in the conviction that what Arthur is doing is for what is right.
If I let my criticisms of the film fall to the back of my mind, as I can for this one, though, what I find when looking back at is an enjoyable action adventure with hint of vision and lots of intensity and ambitious dedication, even if it is off-kilter. For those who end up liking this movie, it more than likely is going to end up as a guilty pleasure. I don't know if there will be another five films in the series like was originally planned, but if there are, I sure to God hope there is more focus in them on characterization, lucidity, and fleshed-out plot and less on spectacle mixed with assertive play. If so, well, that would sure make my day.
My rating: 3 1/2 /5 (for entertainment value and artistic merit rather than for coherent craft)