The second part of Merlin is…well…different than the first. After showing the first part of the review to people the general consensus was that:
A. The film held a certain nostalgia or at least good standing in people’s memory.
B. Sam Neill really didn’t do anything after this of note except for the sequel to this mini series.
MERLIN part I review here.
Merlin part 2 is allowed to swing into full action with its 90 minutes running around playing with things established in part 1. If you remember, the mini series follows Merlin’s trials and tribulations as he navigates through the mortal world whilst fighting with an evil faerie queen from a Shakespeare play. See. Completely linear.
When we last left our protagonist, Merlin was fighting against the dickhead general Vortigern, which ended up with one of them being frozen under a lake. Not spoiling that one. After a heavy CGI standoff with Mab, the film segues into Arthur’s birth before nothing of any real note happens until 15 years later. Holy shit, nothing important ever happens to anyone before they’re 16 I guess. The story of Arthur really takes shape when the boy, um, teenager learns of his destiny and pulls Excalibur out of James Earl Jones. Hooray for the one part that everyone knows. Oh, also, Mab appears in this part and tries to thwart Arthur by making the sword hot, which somehow causes him to bleed. Alright, what the fuck ever.
One of the greatest aspects of the Arthurian legends, which I would eventually come to realize, is how the downfall of heroes is preceded by some awful fucking decisions. As already mentioned, Merlin introduces Mab into the well-known story, but by the second half she is single-handedly causing everything bad to happen, or at least being around when everything bad is about to happen. Perhaps the story was just highlighting how these characters, when left alone, couldn’t put on shoes in the morning let alone make sound moral decisions.
Arthur is a just king, which is related to us by him diffusing rival armies by showing them he is the true king, or some such shit. Oh yes, sure, never mind all the political and monetary maneuvering that got us to this battle. Let us stop this war because your sword fucking whispered to me. Though Merlin part 1 was half steeped in history and legend, part 2 half stretches its legs into some deep bullshit by reminding us why Game of Thrones is so popular for its realistic depiction of fantasy. This, well, its pure fairy tale from here on out. Oh, and we’ll get to Game of Thrones later.
So Arthur in all of his kingliness is tricked by his half sister into siring a child with her. I know, that sounds weird, but yet again Mab is there to use Morgan Le Fay, or Morgause, to create an abomination child by promising her Helen Bonham Carter. Weird I know. Well while all that weird shit is going on, Arthur goes searching for the holy grail while leaving his now wife, Guinevere, to wait in the arms of Lancelot, who everyone knows is a fine, upstanding gentlemen. I joke because again I knew shit about this story and was surprised when Lancelot turned into a horndog.
An interesting casting choice for Merlin was Lena Headey as Guinevere. Headey would eventually go on to to do numerous things, but currently she is most popular for her role as Cersi Lannister in Game of Thrones. How fitting that she would, ten years early, play a morally grey queen hiding a sexual affair. Just saying. Just saying. Headey’s acting caliber shines over everyone including the bizarre choice for Lancelot who could have been played by anyone of my personal friends, my mailman, or a pile of compost and it would have been more convincing.
So back to the story, everything comes crashing down due to Arthur’s big mistake, which wasn’t really his fault. Mordred, abomination son of Arthur and Morgan Le Fay, shows up and starts acting like a spoiled goth kid who thinks he has acting talent. The film does a great job at casting this villain because, literally, I hope for his slow painful death, or at least for him to shut the fuck up whenever he speaks. Why isn’t anyone hitting him? Oh wait, that’s right, I know dick about this story, so Mordred isn’t going to die by a thousand suckerpunches to the dick. Things literally collapse in Camelot and everything that was built up comes crashing down. Nimue is imprisoned in a magical cave, Arthur learns of an affair that rocks the kingdom, Guinevere is sentenced to death for treason, and finally Lancelot’s infidelity causes his wife to die of a broken heart. I am sure that happens all the time outside of magical fairy tales.
Merlin ends with a Camelot standoff between Arthur and Mordred, who stab each other almost at the same time. With that settled, it is time for Mab to get her comeuppance by one of the most tired tropes in history: everyone pretends she doesn’t exit thus playing into her fears of the old magic being forgotten. It is fitting that she screams like a child throwing a tantrum and the kingdom pretends that she is not there. Do you hear anything? No, must be the wind. I guess everything ends alright with Merlin, the wizard, being reunited with Nimue and them living out their mortal days as young versions of themselves. However, the only two people who got off pretty good here were Guinevere and Lancelot. Sure, they were both ostracized and never had anything written about them ever again but no death. No stabbing at the hands of someone who was playing their Vampire the Masquerade character.
As much as Merlin, the TV show, goes bat-shit insane in the second half, the miniseries still surprisingly keeps the charm felt in the first half. Rather than a classic fairy tale of good versus evil, the Arthurian legend, which is classic in its own right, presents flawed characters who have to deal with the beds they made. It would be easy to leave out a dozen things for a brighter story but Merlin chooses to portray, its main character as a strictly neutral personality. He is the protagonist but far from morally superior. In fact, I am trying to think of anyone who is morally superior in this. No one? I am sure there is a horse that didn’t do anything wrong somewhere.
Released: April 26, 1998
Directed By: Sylvio Tabet
Starring: Stars: Sam Neil, Helena Bonham Carter, John Gielgud, James Earl Jones
Written By: David Stevens, Peter Barnes
Score: 5/9 Hammers