Guy Ritchie is a man with a particular set of filmmaking skills. With his smart dialogue, high energy action and distinct visuals, he’s one of those directors that stands out. You know a Guy Ritchie movie when you see it. Sometimes this unique perspective works, while more recently it has resulted in some interesting flops. But do Ritchie’s sensibilities mix well with Camelot’s greatest hero? This is the question many a viewer will ponder while watching King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, as it seems neither Guy Ritchie nor his fellow producers have such an answer.
This King Arthur tells the classic story more along the lines of Hamlet or The Lion King: our title character has to battle his creepy Uncle (Jude Law) to win back the throne and make his world not so doom and gloom. Of course, Ritchie’s take on Arthur is a rough around the edges hottie (Charlie Hunnam) who’s more Robin Hood than a future king of England. He saves wenches, beats up Vikings, and has the comedic chops to be a great side-kick to Michael Peña in Ant Man. And while these factors (plus Hunnam’s movie star appeal) might make Arthur a somewhat likable protagonist, none of it really speaks to the legacy of the Camelot mythology.
Take, for example, the moment in which our lead realizes his lineage. Rather than be profoundly changed by the truth of his origins, Ritchie’s Arthur just takes a casual deep breath and seems to brush it off as nothing. Even during the big dramatic climax of change, this Arthur is not clouded by his emotions, but more eager to return to his band of misfit friends and drink a few beers. Now sure, this is Ritchie’s decision (and Hunnam plays him as best he can) but this character isn’t the King Arthur of legend. And if we’re supposed to grasp the grand scope of this story, he really needs to be.
Here is where Ritchie’s usual flair of gangster films and Cockney criminals detract from what has always worked for this larger-than-life story. The whimsy and majesty of Camelot is traded for a poor man’s cash-in on the Game of Thrones gritty fantasy trend. The drama of the interpersonal workings of the Pendragon family are reduced to undeveloped daddy and brotherly issues that never get their emotional pay-off. Truly, this King Arthur is at its best when it basks in the wide palette that the Fantasy genre has to offer, rather than going for the “dark and realistic” nature that Guy Ritchie is famous for.
But if Richie is to be celebrated for anything, it would be the poetic layers he adds to the mythology that (shockingly) improves it… at times. Though these changes are small, they leave an impact that makes you wonder why no one else thought of them before. This comes mostly into play with the relationship between Arthur and his father, making them not only connected by a bloodline, but by a much deeper tie while also explaining the emotional significance of Excalibur to the hero.
But be warned, these additions are far and few between, and do not excuse some of the truly disgusting atrocities this film gets away with. If you’ve been dreaming of another fantasy movie that only shows women as sirens, prostitutes, baby-makers and love interests, than you’ve got a treat coming for you. And if you’ve been hoping for yet another action flick that has so many phallic images thrown at you in a rapid pace (Swords + Towers + Snakes, etc.) then clearly, this will be the greatest movie going experience of your life. Mixing all of this in a blender, along with some of the worst editing imaginable and “bro” moments left and right, no one here understands how to make a King Arthur movie work.
The only person that was listening in their “good movie class” would be composer Daniel Pemberton. Musical scores are usually there to enhance a scene, but there are some that leave a bigger impression than the movie itself, which is the magical spell Pemberton casts. In moments where the acting is at its flattest or the action is at Transformers levels of messy, Pemberton sends goosebumps all over, making you wish we had returned to the silent film era, so nothing could interrupt the story he’s melodically telling. If anything comes out of this movie, may it be more work for this under-appreciated talent.
With terrible half baked subplots, bad uses of Jude Law, and multiple fight scenes that look like they were cut scenes from the tie-in video game, Ritchie’s King Arthur is nothing that any studio executive or director should be proud of. It may be great for YouTube fan videos, but some striking visuals don’t make for a good movie, and this might be the greatest example of that statement. Sure, King Arthur isn’t the worst bomb that 2017 is likely to offer us at the box office, but I want to call upon the Knights of the Roundtable to excommunicate it from my mind.