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A Ritchie In ‘King Arthur’s Court (Movie Review)

Through thick and thin, I seem to want to stand by Guy Ritchie. Okay, so maybe Swept Away took things a bit too far, but I’ve been happy to support Ritchie from his London gangster film days into his more commercial fair. I dig the man’s style and have found his hyper-kinetic filmmaking approach to Sherlock Holmes and other recent efforts as a refreshingly exciting way to tackle familiar properties. So what to make of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword? Well, it is a shame we could not have simply started with Arthur already being King, as every attempt to do something unique is seemingly undone by trite origin story plot elements. That said, the attitude of this film, the supporting characters and overall production design made for something more interesting than any of the mediocre advertising has been selling.

Working as a sort medieval-themed metal album come to life, with a healthy dose of Ritchie’s Snatch tossed in for good measure, the film starts off with a bang and at least maintains that momentum for the first half. Much like Man of Steel’s opening that felt like the series finale of planet Krypton, King Arthur gives us the final episode of an unmade Uther Pendragon series. Eric Bana fills the shoes of the legendary Uther, who does his best to ward off an army of men and giant elephants, before being betrayed by his brother Vortigern (Jude Law). Uther is still able to get his son off to safety and implant his sword in a stone for the chosen one to find later.

This whole introduction is a joy to watch, as it reveals right away just how steeped in the fantastical this take on the Arthurian legend has decided to go. Adding to that is a montage that has us watch young Arthur grow into an absolutely ripped Charlie Hunnam. He is sure to wake up punching the air and screaming, because what better way to show how much of a good chap you are than to make sure the blood is boiling early on in the day? The take on Arthur is pretty fun, as we see him in a more unassuming mode than many are used to, which involves smooth talking his way through life and providing a decent setup for him and those closest to him.

Hunnam is at an important point in his career right now, as he fits into the typical white leading man department, but will need to do more if he doesn’t want to go from strong TV lead to bland roles in huge movies. I know he’s more than capable, as his early roles, Sons of Anarchy work and the recent Lost City of Z have shown all the good he’s capable of. For King Arthur, at least Hunnam gets to be British. The character is likable enough and given the chance to espouse to witty wordplay with the rest of the cast, but when you have Djimon Hounsou and Aidan Gillen standing around Hunnam for much of the film, it’s easy to become outmatched in the watchable department.

Still, Hunnam is at the center of this thing, which leads to his eventual retrieval of Excalibur and sets the full plot in motion. It’s irritating to note how Law’s Vortigern essentially created this problem for himself by insisting on having everyone try to draw the sword from the stone, but that’s nothing compared to the overlong work done to have us watch Arthur finally accept that he’s a born hero. Despite plenty of efforts by Ritchie to inject tons of life into this film, we are still watching a fairly standard origin story that’s been done to death.

Now it would be easy to come down on the film for all the ways it fails to shake things up, but at the same time, it’s also worth praising for the attempts at being something weird and different. Yes, this only applies to production aspect and design as opposed to the story being told, but there was still something notable about seeing Ritchie’s style meld with Warner Bros.’ choice to try and make King Arthur a worthwhile blockbuster attempt. It may be the classic hero’s journey, but it tries to have some fun by way of fantasy creatures and attitude.

Again, the stuff early on is the best. Even after Uther, watching Arthur recount a story and see Ritchie and his editors play around with the chronology is fun. The terrific score by Daniel Pemberton helps throughout the film. There’s also the action, which verges on being too much like a video game but is also pushed to gonzo levels at times whenever Excalibur suddenly becomes activated. That leads to another question of how anyone wielding this weapon could lose and what that says about the stakes of this film, but whatever, I’m watching a medieval fantasy, and all the actors seem to be having a good time.

Speaking of which, how is Jude Law not being given more of these fun roles to dig into? He’s clearly happy to dig into campy parts, and this role allows for plenty of scene chewing. No matter, he’s great here, along with Gillen, Hounsou and a lot of the other British faces which I’m sure others are more familiar with, and I’ll happily give credit to in future projects they pop up in. Not too sure about the film’s lone major female character, “The Mage” played by Astrid Berges-Frisbey. King Arthur seems unsure of what to do with her, despite giving her all kinds of magic powers to play with. Given various behind-the-scenes issues, it would not be surprising to know there’s a better version of what her deal was.

Speculation aside, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is far from great, but it does enough to be pretty good. It’s too long and tells a story as old as the legends of Arthur, but it’s also a testament to what Ritchie’s modern touch can do to a film. It may not jive with everyone, but I get a kick out of seeing a period film like this that is not concerned with anachronistic language or an overreliance on moodiness. It wants to have fun, and it does, I just wish we could have gotten past the origin before we started.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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