a legendary beef

It’s been forever. Scratch that – it’s been forever and a day; and a half. I have been busy/otherwise engaged for some time now, and I have had no choice but to put off blogging for a while. No more! I’m back, and I aim to kick off a new cycle of blogging with a movie review, which I haven’t done in a while. Here goes, folks! I welcome you back to well inked: I’m glad you’re here, and hope that you stick around!

My legendary beef, as it were, is with the newest attempt at capturing parts of the King Arthur legend on film: The Last Legion. I was excited to see it, and skeptical about it for the same two reasons: the cast (which includes Colin Firth, and is filled with recognizable names), and the writing (I’m an Arthurian scholar/enthusiast of sorts, and any films related to the legend are always of interest to me).

Now, for any of your who aren’t aware, I’ve spent the last four years of my life studying English, reading and dissecting both classic and modern theatrical texts, and swimming through the enormous wealth of information about the medieval period. Beside all that, I love movies – especially period flicks – and I’ve seen a lot of them. In short, I have just given you reason to believe me and share my dismay when I sigh, wring my fists, laugh at Ben Kingsley, and wonder how badly the writers and director failed Character Chemistry 101.

Before I get to calling the whole thing down to the dirt, however, I will say a few good things about it:

1. If for no other reason, I will eventually watch it again because it does make me endlessly happy to see Colin Firth in a histori-fictional (yes, I realize that’s not a real term) role in which he does something even slightly violent.

2. I did enjoy how rag-taggle the cast was, and how different they all were.

3. It was neat to have the Byzantine empire play a part in the form of badass female assassin, even though her character was relatively transparent.

4. I liked the concept of going outside the stereotypical Arthurian box and making an attempt at some of the back story.

5. The corny/funny bits did make the movie more enjoyable, even though they do effect the film’s merit in a negative way.

Okay, so enough with the niceties: here comes the legendary beef!

The nature of my issue with The Last Legion predominantly concerns the writing and direction, though the performances of some of the actors puzzled me to no end.

I realize that is it quite a feat to write a convincing historical drama, and an even greater feat to write a truly realistic one that anyone other than myself and three other people would go and see. The interesting thing about The Last Legion was that it did not make a claim of realism, and therefore could have taken more license with the “truth” of the story, as well as with the characters, and yet the end result somehow came to be a cast of under-developed characters, unconvincing deliveries, and confusing plot developments.

I am always wary of movies that begin with someone telling some of the back story or details of what is to come, and I’m almost always proved to be in the right in being so. The Last Legion, sadly, was no exception. This tactic, if used, must be used well and delivered well, which is very difficult to do. There is no easy answer to setting up a movie for an unknowing audience, but sometimes verbally telling the story can ruin it.

I do hate to spoil movies for people, even those which are sub-par, so I will stray from giving any particular details from this point, onward. The introduction of Colin Firth’s character – Aurelius – is a little too nonchalant. It left me asking questions about his character, and about where to place all of this in a historical scope. There is the rather obvious time stamp of 460 A.D which flashes on screen to let the audience know where they’ve landed themselves in time, but from a story-telling perspective, one of the lead characters is left with too much mystery, and consequently not enough, at the same time. I was not made to be curious, rather I was left wanting.

Ben Kingsley and Aishwarya Rai both suffered from “I’m a terribly under-developed and only half believable character” syndrome, giving them very little to work with when it came to delivering their lines with conviction. Kingsley, at times, came off as far too silly a Merlin to be taken very seriously, and Aishwarya Rai – though a relatively convincing femme fatale – was missing a background with enough weight to convince anyone that she was worth caring about.

On a somewhat interesting and puzzling note, some of the minor characters were more convincing than the major ones, with Rupert Friend and co. pulling off decent performances as the “cavalry”, as it were. John Hannah was also relatively well cast and played a role that I could believe, believeably. In fact, the couple of scenes between Hannah and Firth are likely some of the least problematic in the entire film.

Odd relationship developments with little explanation make up the last of my complaints about this film, with the romance between Aurelius and Mira (Firth and Rai) taking the prize as one of the most predictable and over-quick relationships I have yet seen in a film.

The relationship between Romulous, Aurelius and Mira also happens far too quickly and without sufficient development, and there are a few instances of time passage/montage bits that are simply too run-of-the-mill, and devoid of thought, for my taste; a montage-by-number, one might say.

Overall, The Last Legion was confused, unfocused, and guilty of trying to stuff too much into too little a space. I will say that I hoped, beyond all hope, that this movie would surprise me and be far better than I expected. Alas, I went in with relatively low expectations, and they were satisfied – I, was not.

Read on! You just might be intrigued.

The above was written after the first time I went to see The Last Legion, and since I am apparently too kind to write a scathing review without having given a film a second chance, I swallowed my pride – and a good, healthy supper – and went to see it again. …just to see if it would be better when taken in alone and on a full stomach. To my incomprehensible surprise, it was!

At some point – somewhere around the part where a raven makes an entrance and someone’s finger is unhappily sliced from their hand – it occurred to me that movies are viewed entirely differently when one has considered the effect of the company in which they are viewed. Now, this is not a new realization for me, but it was certainly never as poignant – nor was there such a severe difference in viewings – as with this puzzling effort at Arthur’s pre-history.

I will admit (fully and completely, though those who accompanied me to the first viewing will most certainly disagree) that the second time I braved my way through this film, it did not seem to be nearly as catastrophic as I make it out to be in my original review. Though the weaknesses remain (though they seemed significantly less abhorrent), and the film is not greatly improved upon second viewing, I will hereby recant my review and say: see for yourself! I mean it. Go and see the movie yourself, and see what you think.

The reason I made the decision to let my original review live is simply to demonstrate that even I can be scathing and terrible when I need to be, but will admit when I have been overly critical. Beyond that, the greater point of this entry is to say that one should always pay attention to one’s company when watching a movie: before hand, as well as afterward. If you know you will be watching a movie that certain of your friends are likely not to be fond of, don’t ruin your movie-watching experience by inviting them along; by contrast, don’t judge too harshly upon first seeing a film if you’ve seen it with others, as your enjoyment/dislike of the film will be significantly altered by the company you keep.

One final note: I write movie reviews for my own enjoyment, and partially for the benefit of others; I recognize that others do the same, and I try my best not to be overly critical or quick to praise without first seeing the movie myself. I always quote (well, paraphrase) a friend of mine when speaking of movies and personal judgments thereof: it isn’t the good movies that you like that define your character – it’s the bad ones. Everyone can like the good ones, but the bad ones say something about you.

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One thought on “a legendary beef

  1. Glad you gave it a second go! I, too, enjoyed the movie much better the second time around. I think it was a complete disaster in the marketing department, so many “professional” reviewers had the wrong idea going in, but it really was campy good fun. (Plus… Colin Firth in leather, wielding a *sword*… wheee!)

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