I saw King Arthur.
I liked it as this medievalist metal action flick, brooding and serious to the point of near-absurdity at points, willing to crack some humor at other points.
So, as an action flick it's rather light on the explanations, and at times a bit muddled. The action begins with a besieged castle and lots of action. Names fly; some of them stick. To the credit of the filmmakers, it felt legendary. As director, Guy Ritchie likes having characters describe what's going to happen over montages of it happening, something that keeps the film quick-paced but has led me later to wonder whether a couple of scenes actually happened. (And not in an awesome, subjective, postmodern way.) He, perhaps, could have done The Hobbit in 2.5 hours, making it similarly enjoyable but somewhat fuzzy in parts. The action is fun; good fights, yeah. The acting is pretty good too, both in the central and supporting cast.
The film is heavy on machismo. Arthur becomes a man who learns how to protect the brothel workers who helped raise him. He surrounds himself with men who know how to talk fast, crack a joke, and put on a stiff upper lip under tremendous pressure. Moms die and are absent; dads die and sons witness their deaths, perhaps repeatedly. Phallic symbols fly. Spoiler:
Arthur needs to repeatedly relive and face the death of his father in order to master Excalibur (his phallic symbol) and overcome the serpentine, phallus-tower-constructing Vortigern. His mom also dies in these cutscenes, but she doesn't fight, and Arthur never engages her in these flashbacks. In the middle of the movie, a boy named Blue witnesses his father interrogated and killed by Vortigern; the death triggers an immediate reaction in Blue, and a more gradual determination in Arthur.
Men do a variety of things, many of them centered on fighting, drinking, or acting politically. Women are subsumed into various supportive roles: they advise and encourage (Lady of the Lake); they support with magic (Mage); they die while fulfilling little other plot function (most of the other named women).
I've read some reviews that lament the lack of a focused Arthurian narrative here. In one way, they're right - this isn't the classic Arthur of Sword in the Stone or Le Morte Darthur, as seen in Excalibur. However, its subsuming of women, its focus on the phallic masculinity of men, and its interest in some scant political ethos being developed in Arthur seems Arthurian in a medievalist, anachronistic sense: it's some of the worst parts of the Arthurian mythos mixed with some of the most potent, readapted into a form that doesn't care it mixes four temporalities in vast, anachronistic fashion (~500 CE Londinium + 1400 CE arms and armor + 1100 CE allusions to Crusader narratives + some of the politics of today).
I really want to like it. Arthur is directly in my field of study. I read and appreciate Arthurian texts with substantial flaws that I don't overlook but I manage to deal with. Similarly, here, I enjoyed it (anachronisms and all) and could talk about it all day, and by that measure it succeeded. Still, I'm exasperated by its core conservatism, especially regarding gender. I feel like they used their own vision of what "medieval" is to justify putting men front and center and putting four women in (not literal) refrigerators. "THIS IS MEDIEVAL!" it screams with every set, every gesture, every retrograde gender assumption. "You can do better," I reply, and I'm not referring to the prop anachronisms.