The slick, super-serious King Arthur offers a new take on the legend of yore. Dispensing with magic, the sword in the stone and the Lady of the Lake, it casts Clive Owen as Artorious, a half-British, half-Roman knight who's spent 15 years warring with the Woads (native Brits given to painting their bodies blue and shouting. A bit like Portsmouth fans). But when Saxon savages invade and the Roman Empire retreats, Art and his rough, tough knights must decide who the real enemy is...
With Pirates Of The Caribbean's Keira Knightley as grrrl-power, Woad warrior Guinevere, it won't take (dark) ages to figure out how this myth-mashing actioner will unravel. Stephen Dillane's non-magical Merlin is a marginal figure and you can tell the Saxons are dastardly because their leader is played by a bored-looking Stellan Skarsgård with a big beard and a nice line in tourist etiquette: "Burn every village, kill everybody".
"THE ACTION SEQUENCES ARE ENERGETIC"
Despite this eeevil, King Arthur lacks a sense of urgency. David Franzoni's script is intent on establishing Arthur as a thoughtful democratic leader, determined to give people "freedom" (surely the most glibly used word in history). It all feels very worthy, very modern, and isn't helped by Owen's delivery. He's fine at fighting but frequently sounds, well, bored. "I want peace," he moans - no doubt so he can go and have a little lie down.
Ioan Gruffudd is much more impressive as Lancelot, while the action set-pieces are suitably energetic - if somewhat bloodless, in an effort to gain a child-friendly 12A rating (the climactic battle in particular, loses a lot of impact by cutting away from the cutting).
Director Antoine Fuqua is obviously influenced by Akira Kurosawa - the seven knights here echo The Seven Samurai - and his intentions are admirable. But he could learn a lesson from another cinema master, John Ford, and the words of a character in his masterful western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
King Arthur is released in UK cinemas on Friday 30th July 2004.