Guy Ritchie. I guess you either love or hate him & his chop-chop style of movie-making.
An influence on Matthew Vaughn (Kingsmen) and surely a swag of young filmmakers at home in the UK, and abroad, with his frenetic and kinetic energy in films like ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels‘, ‘Snatch‘ and his two ‘Sherlock Holmes‘ films, Ritchie is also no stranger to box office flops and critical mauling (Swept Away, Revolver.)
Sadly, judging by the reception to the film in the U.S., King Arthur falls into this basket of disappointments.
For me though, expecting a big mess, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam ably and charismatically carries the film as the titular Arthur, the son of Uther (Eric Bana) and rightful heir to the English throne, displaced by his uncle Vortigen (Jude Law) at the start of the film in a spectacular battle for Camelot complete with dinosaur sized elephants.
In scenes reminiscent of the epic scope of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien Trilogies, Ritchie comes close to creating a believable world as rich as Jackson’s, but seems reluctant to embrace the fantasy elements that made those pictures so enduring.
The trademark Ritchie flourishes are all over this film and that means thing happen at a cracking pace, as we are introduced to a dozen or so characters in the opening scene.
Casting faces from Game of Thrones is a smart idea, but some of choices come with thick accents that I found difficult to understand, particularly with the names of the key players being quite complicated.
One familiar face that leaps off the screen belongs to David Beckham as Trigger, in a pivotal scene as young Arthur attempts to free Excalibur from the stone, a stone that turns out to have particular significance later on in the film, as we learn on one of the picture’s many flashback sequences.
Given the Arthurian legend is cloaked in myth, I’m not sure what place any “historical accuracy” has in the film, but for the most part it felt like an authentic interpretation of the English Middle Ages with impressive physical and digital sets breathing life into the back alleys and waterways of “Londinium“.
Essentially Ritchie is telling the same story he has always told, a criminal gang do their thing and the chosen one steps up to accept his place as the leader of the pack. And naturally the definition of what criminal actually is depends on who is in charge.
In this instance, Vortigen, with the help of his army and some magic, rules with an iron fist and struggles to contain the underground support for Arthur.
Perhaps the film with its heavily masculine slant is out of step with contemporary audiences, or it may just be another in the long line of literary adaptations that nobody asked for from Warner Brothers (Tarzan, Pan etc), but it is nowhere near as bad as many have made it out to be.
It is almost as if Ritchie has come under fire for being part of the studio’s attempt to create a new franchise where no such opportunity exists.
Universal and Legendary Pictures’ Warcraft suffered the same fate, receiving a critical bludgeoning (which I believe it deserved), but managed to post earnings of over $400 million USD worldwide on a $160 million USD budget possibly keeping the idea of more films in the series afloat, whereas King Arthur, a better film in my books, will struggle to claw back the $175 million USD that was spent unwisely.
It would be a shame if this film died on release (as it seemed to have done so far) as it may well live on to attain cult status in a couple of decades time.
3 Stars. “Swashbuckling Madness on a Grand Scale”