King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Review
From the first trailer I saw King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, I hoped it would be a resounding success. I'm a fan of Guy Ritchie's films for one, but then also it looked to be unafraid of taking chances with Arthurian lore unlike so many of the adaptations before it, all of which from the modern era appear to be obsessed with making things as "realistic" as possible. But there's nothing realistic about a man pulling a magic sword from a stone and the man becoming king because of guidance from an ancient wizard. When I hear the words "King Arthur", I picture dragons and knights in magically protected armor achieving the impossible--basically being high fantasy versions of superheroes. What I don't ever really care to see is "the true story" or the "truth behind the magic" or any boring sort of variation that reduces the characters to mere mortal men--there are other characters to explore those stories with.
So all it took was one trailer for me to go see this film, despite all the mixed/poor reviews it was receiving. And I wish I could say that this was one case where all the "elitist" reviewers had missed the point and couldn't enjoy the film for what it was, but alas I cannot.
Certainly the film starts out decently enough, with Arthur's father Uther being under seige by Mordred (!) and his armies of men and mage and giant mammoth, slinging spells that incinerated members of Arthur's army with no effort. Surprisingly Uther is able to defeat Mordred with little to no real trouble, and Camelot appears saved...until Uther is betrayed by his brother, who kills his family in order to gain the power to conquer the wielder of Excalibur. But before Uther's brother Vortigern can slay the only other proper heir to the throne in Arthur, Arthur manages to escape by boat, sailing away until he lands at a port in "Londinium".
From there, we get a quick montage of Arthur's life growing up: raised in a brothel, he learns his way around the city by building up a gang of young boys who make money through theft and other unsavory means, and learns to fight by training in what looks like a medieval fight club of sorts. Its here that the "Guy Ritchie-ness" of the film shines, and nearly every scene in Londinium is gold and they belong in a better film. Recasting Arthur as a gang leader and potential leader of a revolution to become King is an inspired choice and could have made a great film as an idea on its own.
Unfortunately, the scenes in Londinium are all too short and we find ourselves in far less interesting places as we raise Arthur from a street thug to a man capable of battling against his uncle Vortigern and his army. Their attempt to "force" Arthur into spaces that would lend themselves more to the mystical, ironically (for me) bring the movie to a crawl. The scenes are often awkwardly shot at best and boring at worst. In fact, far too much of the film is awkwardly shot, with dramatic scenes including the requisite slow-motion and emotional screams that go from impactful to cartoonish in the span of two hours.
The few times the film manages to truly capture one's interest again during all the mythical junk is near the end, when Arthur finally gets the hang of using Excalibur. The legendary sword is given its just due in this film, as holding it with both hands turns Arthur into a real life version of Talion from Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, allowing him to move and react at super speed, taking down dozens of soldiers with zero effort. It looks pretty fucking cool, but it simply doesn't belong alongside the more interesting parts that Richie's film have already set up.
It feels more like there are two separate stories being told here--one of King Arthur as a ganglord, and the other a mystical battle between good and evil, and while either one of them would have made a fine film on their own, merging them together created an absolute mess. The sad thing is, if they hadn't been so eager to get to stuff that could have been done later, they could have easily created a cult classic if nothing else.
If Arthur's a ganglord, go all the way with it. Say his father's still alive and embarrassed by his son, while Arthur believes that his father is too high up to understand what the people really want and need. Then introduce other gangs that pose as antagonists and rivals, and perhaps have the leader of one give in to a strange power that turns him into a darker person, eventually not even resembling himself. Its him that winds up killing Arthur's father in a bid for power, which forces Arthur to take over the throne that he's been shunning since he came of age. That could have allowed some of the same mystical shit that they (and I) wanted but also not taken us out of the cool-looking medieval city they set up.
Ultimately, this was an idea that could have indeed created the franchise Warner Bros wanted, but a muddled vision and overall lacking cinematography killed this prince long before it could dream of becoming king.