I spent the summer of a formative year working in a video rental store (common courtesy and our shared understanding dictates that you not carbon date my age with this information-let’s retain some mystery, shall we?) Periodically, some poor, unsuspecting victim would drop $3.50 to rent a copy of Snakes on a Train, only to learn how important the difference between a train and a plane could truly be. Snake on a Train is the product of Asylum films, a company that rushes blockbuster knock-offs straight to easily digestible DVD or streaming, with genuinely magnificent results and names that would make the litigious hairs on Disney’s neck stand on end. They are boldly terrible, so completely other, that they require new eyes for viewing and new language for criticism. I promise all of this exposition is going somewhere, and great news, it’s going straight to Camelot, because guys…I just watched King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and it stone cold blew my mind.
Though it is clearly being released to coincide roughly with Guy Ritchie’s impending King Arthur movie (which, make no mistake, also looks very, very stupid,) King Arthur “etcetera etcetera” makes little effort to mirror the ostensible plot of that film. The fundamental concept we’re working with here is that Mordred and Morgana are doomed by Arthur to never age and sent into space in some sort of weird volcanic rock, only to land in present day Thailand, where they find a (convenient) reunion of descendants of the original knights of the Round Table and duke it out with them for the Holy Grail and Excalibur. Take a moment to genuinely salute the inspired stupidity of that storyline. Because it is magical.
Within this framework, the actors generally acquit themselves far better than they have any reason to. Eoin O’Brien makes a relatively charming Penn (the obvious Arthur of the modern group) and Ron Smoorenburg (if there’s a more delightful name in the world, I don’t want to know about it) is both believably douchey, but level headed in the Lancelot role. However, the greatest pleasure in any Asylum movie is in the pure improbability of it being classified as a film. It’s kind of like putting a tophat and a monocle on a pug and sending it to tea with Lord and Lady Asturbery-it may not have the pedigree, the elocution, or the human DNA, but goddammit, it is going to be entertaining. All of the costumes that aren’t clearly just the actors’ clothes have that special sheen of Halloween pop-up store to them, and the special effects are only just beyond Ed Wood-ian. These may seem like criticisms-they are not.
The full confluence of these things-the weird lasers that periodically shoot out of Morgana’s hands to signify magic, or the BDSM Alexander Hamilton costume Mordred (and we’ll come back to him-I’m not even close to done with him yet) wears-brings such a distinct joy with it. Yes, this is a shameless cash-in. And yes, too, it looks as if it were made with a budget of approximately 17 shiny dollars. But no one is half-assing it. It may be opportunistic and mercenary, but it is not cynical or even, for that matter, lazy. Because despite its effort and desire to ride the coattails of a (much) bigger budget movie, King Arthur “and lots of other words” still weirdly took the time to have an original story, instead of simply retreading a classic. Which reminds me that now may be a good time to warn any Arthurian purists, this obviously isn’t T.H. White here, and no one is going to put this into their collection next to The Once and Future King. And that’s actually kind of a shame, because there is a genuine affection for the source material at play here. And perhaps most importantly, there is Russel Geoffrey Banks just gnawing on the scenery as Mordred, as if he is the unholy love child of Alan Rickman and Riff-Raff, freshly graduated from Tom Hiddleston’s Loki School for British Space Gods. It is, top to bottom, an inexplicable performance that I never wanted to end.
Yes, in about a month, Guy Ritchie’s too-cool-for-school King Arthur movie will be released, and certainly an audience will embrace the alpha male, “this sword is an extension of my dick” posturing. But I would take Asylum’s go for broke, “let’s put on a show” aesthetic over it any day. It is the King Arthur movie to see in May if you actually like enjoying movies.
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table hit DVD and VOD on May 2, 2017.