The film was pitched to the studio as Lord of the Rings meets Snatch. Charlie Hunnam, who won the role of King Arthur only after promising Guy Ritchie that he’d bulk up for it, and offered to fight (and win) the other two in consideration (Henry Cavill and Jai Courtney), said that the description sold him on the movie: “That’s a film I wanted to see.” Unfortunately, we can now say that Hunnam was the only one who did. King Arthur bombed big time at the box office this weekend, earning just $17M against its $175M production budget. Sean and I were part of that tiny 17 million dollar sliver, but only because it was opening night at our local drive-in theatre and we just couldn’t stay away.
Full disclosure, the moment the movie began, I turned to Sean and said “I really don’t like movies that mix fantasy and historical.” Sean let out a breath. “You’re going to hate this.” He was right. I kind of knew it too. But as soon as I’d said those words, I realized they were too general. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head, but I’m certain there are plenty of movies who get it right. I know I was thinking of The Great Wall when I said it, as King Arthur’s opening scene immediately put that to my mind, which was a rough way to start. It would later remind me of the egregious Ben Hur remake, an even worse comparison.
The premise is, of course, familiar: King Uther (Eric Bana) has a rocking sword named Excalibur and a shitty younger brother named Vortigern (Jude Law, who only plays bad guys since he lost his hair) who doesn’t love anyone as much as he loves himself, and loves power most of all. He’ll stop at nothing to win and keep the crown, and he slays his way through his own immediate family, spilling their blood to make himself king. His kingdom suffers from his megalomania for years, but just when things go really REALLY bad, Excalibur reveals itself, the sword in the stone that no one can liberate. Vortigern knows that only his nephew will be able to handle it, so he rounds up all the age-appropriate young men in the kingdom and eventually Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is revealed. And then it’s game ON. Arthur isn’t really motivated to do battle with his ruthless uncle, but a beautiful mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) persuades him that it must be so.
Guy Ritchie’s Arthur was raised in a brothel and is a bit of a thug. His gang is fast-talking, full of the saucy wit we’ve come to expect from a Ritchie movie, only now it’s mixed with magic and sorcery and feels wildly out of place. It’s clear Ritchie is aiming for a stylish, genre-bending effort, with anachronisms he doesn’t quite pull off as well as say, Baz Lurhrmann did in Moulin Rouge or even Brian Helgeland with A Knight’s Tale (although the heavy-breathing score is kind of inspired). This King Arthur is a muscular and masculine movie that’s devoid of plot or character development. There’s no risk of actual tension so instead Ritchie has made sure that “stuff” is always “happening.” The movie just plops you down in the middle of the action, stuff that Ritchie apparently just made up in his head, and expects you to know what he was thinking. If you feel quite confident about your ability to read Guy Ritchie’s mind vis-a-vis magic and ginormous, fantastical pachyderms, you’re set. Otherwise, you’re in for a world of confusion, and the fact that Ritchie is apparently allergic to linear story-telling doesn’t help. One scene is constantly inter-cut with another because Guy Ritchie JUST CAN’T WAIT TO GET TO THE POINT! But will still make you sit through the dreary stuff as well, edited so its dreary-ACTION!-dreary-ACTION!-dreary-ACTION! and you forget which time line you’re actually in, even though they’re probably only separated by about 6 minutes or so, making it all feeling DREARY-DREARY!-DREARIER-DREARIEST!
This was meant to be merely the first installment of a planned six films series; safe to say the other 5 will soon be scrapped. Ritchie might be good at gritty crime dramas, but audiences just aren’t receiving his douchebag approach (hello, David Beckham cameo!) to King Arthur very well. I’ll tell you one redeeming thing though: Charlie Hunnam is indeed fit to be king. Very, very fit. I thought the wardrobe choice for him was interesting but cannot, for the life of me, understand why he wasn’t just shirtless the whole time. His physicality seemed to be of utmost importance to Ritchie, so why not capitalize on his one good idea and call it a day?