King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
The expected and traditional feast of failings in the fantasy genre, especially on the big screen are not present in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch-LOTR crossover.
What the movie did wrong:
The film has been crushed by critics, currently sitting at 27% on Rotten Tomatoes. A failing on the critics if you ask me, which you did by clicking this link.
A lot of the criticism for the film has been directed at Ritchie. On his clear influence and paw prints altering a classic but screw that, I think we needed more Ritchie and less Peter Jackson. Don’t get me wrong, no one has done epic fantasy better than Jackson did with Lord of the Rings but Ritchie gives us Arthur origins with colloquy never observed in the fantasy genre.
Some of the most enjoyable moments of the film come in the brief time we get with young Arthur. The dialogue and Richie's traditionally choppy compilation of backstory in the opening 20 minutes is superb. It’s unfortunate that we get such a small morsel of Arthur and the boys running the slums of Londinium before the grand adventure gets going.
Jude Law’s Vortigern is intriguing but he is presented to us in too sparse a portion. We don’t get much of a feel for the man so addicted to power that he’d sacrifice those closest to him, nor do we give a damn about those sacrificed because the movie simply doesn’t allow them a chance to matter.
The opening battle at Minas Tirith (complete with dark and scary looking Elephants) was rushed. The grand intro to the film also presented a drama more intense than the final confrontation. The film lacked some balance in it’s approach and time management but despair not because that’s all the negatives I’ve got.
Oh, one last note. It opened a long side Guardians of the Galaxy 2. (Which was damn good.) A real hit to the box-office numbers no doubt.
What the movie did right:
Being a cinematic fantasy fan is like cheering for the Cleveland Browns. It’s a constant kick to the head. Every year stories are adapted, source material is claimed to be studied meticulously but the translation always sucks. The Seventh Son, Warcraft, Immortals, the Last Witch Hunter, The Great Wall, Eragon, etc.
Not all of them are completely terrible movies but none of them came close to exceeding expectations. With Arthur, critics seemed to be two thirds of the way through a ravaging preview before the flick even starts. It’s hard to blame them, especially as a book reader who was made ill after Eragon’s first viewing. I think they got Arthur wrong, it was predetermined that it wouldn’t be good and didn’t really have a chance to marinate with fans and critics alike.
Mentioned above is the brief time spent with Arthur coming to age. Arthur is raised in a brothel and he’s struggling to find his way in the slums, but while Arthur is struggling, Ritchie is thriving in his element. He surrounds Charlie Hunnam’s Arthur with loveable and interesting characters. The banter, the chemistry, the broken recanting of a day in the life is perfect.
Most fantasy protagonists struggle for one of three reasons:
1) The character isn’t likeable.
2) The character isn’t believable.
3) The character isn’t challenged and rises too quickly. Or alternatively, the character takes forever to find his feet.
None of these are issues in Legend of the Sword. Hunnam is arrogant, cocky, but his reluctance to rise is humbling. Hunnam is also jacked and looks every bit the warrior-king type. Finally, Hunnam struggles throughout the movie to find his way, digest advice, and harness his past. It’s the trifecta, when Arthur steps up it’s stimulating. As an audience member, you’re absolutely stoked rather than annoyed he found his way.
There’s a lot of story telling here. The material could easily been split across two movies but bless them for giving us as much as they reasonably could. Ambiguous endings also suck in fantasy, see the Hobbit trilogy which went off the previous LOTR blueprint.
For the action junkies there’s plenty of that too. No cars for Ritchie in this one but there’s plenty of crashes, tight corners, and tracking shots that give it a high speed pursuit feel through some of its most intense moments.
The ending leaves an opening for a sequel(s) and I for one hope the rough opening weekend doesn’t catapult the notion out of existence.