King of the Who…?
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou
Released May 12th, 2017
Arthur is an orphan raised in a brothel, where the ladies bring him up as a fast-talking streetwise grifter. By the time he reaches his twenties Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) makes his way through Londinium like Rick Ross, hustlin’ every day. Londinium is ruled by the evil king Vortigern (Jude Law), but Arthur can’t be bothered to care about more than the next handful of coins he’s able to liberate.
Vortigern gained control of the kingdom after killing his brother Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), who we know is Arthur’s father, though Arthur has yet to gain this information. Uther was wielding the mighty sword Excalibur, yet Vortigern was able to vanquish his brother because of a Faustian deal he made with a tentacled creature that resides under his castle in a Lovecraftian grotto. Vortigern must spill the blood of someone he loves every now and then in order to keep control of the kingdom. At least I think that’s the story. I admit I got confused. Not a lot here makes sense.
I suppose Jude Law could have made for a good villain; he has certainly been adept at playing a heel in films past, but here he just seems bored. I don’t blame him, I was bored with this film, too. As such, Vortigern is an unthreatening villain, even as he goes around killing family members. Charlie Hunnam is fine as Arthur, although he strikes me as a bit old for the role. There’s not much to Arthur, or any of these characters really. We are introduced to them, they do things, the movie ends. The audience is hard pressed to care.
We follow Arthur on the classic Hero’s Journey, or we would have except most of the film focuses on his Refusal of the Call. We know he’s a hero, get on with the heroics! King Arthur is a boring film with a lame hero, an uninteresting villain, dodgy special effects, poor 3D, an unintelligible story, and no sense of adventure.
Director Guy Ritchie attempts to do something with Arthurian Legend that he did for the Sherlock Holmes stories, make something old feel contemporary. There are scenes early on that have that distinctive Guy Ritchie stamp of quick edits and witty banter, but these flourishes soon give way to poorly lit and staged fight scenes between characters to whom we are indifferent. You can tell which sequences Ritchie cared about and which he left for the SFX department to finish. This is a bad film, but it would be much worse without those Ritchie touches.
The most positive aspect of King Arthur is the daring score by Daniel Pemberton. Pemberton uses heaving breathing and human screams (his own!) to conjure a compelling soundscape that is more alive than many of the scenes in the movie. Pemberton’s score may turn out to be a work that people return to time and again and may prove to be more popular than the film itself.
I bet you didn’t know this movie had a subtitle, did you? Yep, it’s called King Arthur: Legend of the Sword because it’s the first of a planned six-film Arthurian Legend cinematic universe. The subtitle may be Legend of the Sword, but the movie isn’t concerned with telling you why the sword has the power to slow down time, or why a giant snake appears out of nowhere, or why Uther turned to stone, or where the tentacled she-devils came from, or how they grant power. I guess we’ll have to wait for the sequels to fill us in. Who am I kidding? This film is going to be a box office flop of the highest degree. If we do see sequels, my bet is they will be direct-to-streaming, possibly with a whole new cast and definitely with a different director.
Every fifteen years or so we are treated to a reimagining of Arthurian Legend, possibly because the the Knights of the Roundtable are still a big deal in England, or perhaps it comes down to two simple words: public domain. Let’s hope we see a more engaging version in 2032.