King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword
For many movies, the viewing environment can drastically affect your perspective and ultimate assessment of your enjoyment of the film. When I was just about to become a teenager, I used to take the subway into Manhattan to go to several of the myriads of low-cost theaters located within a few blocks. This tendency for solitary viewing has carried over through my life long attachment for the cinema. Now, when I receive a new movie to preview my first exposure is during a quiet evening accompanied by only a pad and pen to jot down a few notes. There is an understandable exception to this sweeping generation, and the latest flick on the docket required hanging out with my best friend to create an atmosphere most conducive to the best way to fairly consider my impression of the movie. The film submitted for consideration was ‘King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword.' Cutting directly to the chase the ensuing two hours and six minutes became the home version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Unfortunately, our comments and jocular observations being a better source of entertainment than the actual movie. Ultimately, my final ranking came across slightly elevated than if I had followed my usual practice of a solitary viewing. Throughout the history of film, the Arthurian legend of brave knights, Camelot and striving for a better way to rule. There have been treatments of this story have been done from the perspective of the youthful exuberance leading to the round table, the weary older versions of the principle cast during the decline of dream and even a Broadway musical that was a hit on both stage and screen. Most of the standard plot devices and archetypes regarded as necessary for a successful project are ingrained in the foundation of this story including romance, combat, magic and one of the oldest of all themes, sibling rivalry. It requires the participation of many in the cast and crew to achieve this dubious goal but this movie is the epitome, or perhaps better stated as the nadir if anti-synergism were the total work is less than the sum of its parts.
It is an excepted directorial style to bring the audience into the middle of the story, in medias res. It is considered an advanced technique requiring a considerable amount of expertise, experience, and talent. In this movie the director, Guy Ritchie is a name that is highly recognizable with a substantial fan base. However, this does not confer the proper bona fides on the auteur that would have permitted him to navigate the intricacies required successfully. His forte is predominantly brute force urban violence typically in London or another UK metropolitan area. The cockney accents are so realistically thought that English subtitles are typically necessary. This story set in the barbaric era of sub-Roman Britain circa early in the twelfth century. The dialogue is nearly indecipherable in what I have dubbed ‘Middle Cockney.' To the detriment of any in the audience with real intentions of following a storyline, no subtitles were provided. When combined with an almost complete lack of any explanation, exposition or context. The version I was provided was in 3D, so I was hopeful of at least some noteworthy cinematography and imagery. This optimistic anticipation was depressed some when I noticed the Director of Photography was listed as Daniel Pemberton, a man whose work in movies was nearly entirely devoted to musical composition.
The initial battle is led by the good king of Britain, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana). His opponent in this mortal combat is the evil wizard, Mordred. Clad in the standardized fantasy rendition of ancient armor it looks as if the producers managed to pick up the metallic costume at Peter Jackson’s post-Lord of the Rings yard sale. The battle is to determine the fate of humanity through the magical power of practitioners known as Mages. The king is victorious but is soon betrayed and murdered by his brother Vortigern (Jude Law), who usurps the throne. In the confusion of the coup, the royal prince and true heir to the throne are spirited away. In the darkest part of Londinium he his brought to a brothel raised by the prostitutes that name him Arthur. His childhood is mostly running cons on the street frequently rewarded by the men working in and near the house of ill repute. Arthur (eventually portrayed by Charlie Hunnam), diligently the by hordes the coins until by the time he reaches his majority he has accumulated a substantial chest of gold. His experiences provide him with street smarts, ingenuity, quick reflexes, strength, and stamina. The turning point of the story, or at least what is intended to pass as a story, is when a group of Vikings led by Greybeard (Mikael Persbrandt), mistreats one of the young ladies Arthur and his friends Tristan (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and Backpack (Neil Maskell). They are subdued and captured by the ‘Blacklegs,' Vortigern's minions a general jackboot henchmen. The three are captured, added to a contingent of prospective slaves. As part of the induction process Arthur is placed in line with hundreds of other young men. The routine is to attempt to pull a magic sword from an enchanted stone. Everyone tries an fails moving on to the next station where they are branded as property. Arthur is anxious for his turn, pushing to the head of the line. Grabbing the hilt, it begins to move, and in a flood of visions, it comes free as Arthur passes out.
Infused throughout the movie the dialogue, quickly becomes evident that there is no doubt that the man in the commanding chair is none other than Guy Ritchie. His directorial trademarks include intensely violent urban crime thrillers. As alluded to above his penchant for exceptionally thick Cockney accents makes following the dialogue nearly impossible except for the men and women occupying the areas I London represents the Vox popular, my jocular reference that the characters here spoke ‘middle Cockney’ was intended as descriptive more than satiric. Supplanting the requisite chase scene through the narrow back alleys and streets of London are replaced by the same hyperkinetic mayhem transposed chronologically to Londinium, a settlement preceding the modern city. The choice of location does permit the realization of a famous nursery rhyme line ‘London bridge is falling’ albeit resulting from a conflagration. If it wasn’t for the conspicuous period costumes, the movie could very well be any of Mr. Ritchie’s other offerings. This filmmaker is deservedly well considered within his genre of expertise, but he is out of his element helming a fantasy/supernatural action flick such as this.
The overutilization of modern tropes, techniques and plot contrivances admittedly project a certain campy quality but barely sufficient to support the majority of the story. The inclusion of archetypes typically associated with modern times is so out of place in this setting that the overall effect is disconcertingly out of place. One of the most glaring examples is an attack on the royal pretender, Vortigern. The plot involved an archer in assassinating the king at an impossible distance. The sniper was played by an actor who has recently become synonymous with treacherous, covert plots, Aidan Gillen. In this story he plays archer extraordinaire, Sir William "Goosefat Bill" Wilson. He is highly recognizable as the Machiavellian most of Westeros, Lord Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish. No matter what remarks may be applied to this movie it has an incredible cast with highly talented and seasoned performers in every role. This initiated a chase through the busy streets cluttered with tradespeople and surfs. The Blackleg soldiers brutally mow down anyone getting in their ways prompting my friend to note "#surf lives matter". This is such a typical scene for any film by Mr. Ritchie that his storyboards could have been from any of his flicks.
The reliance on the supernatural that had been made indispensable to achieve the dénouement is so far out of the filmmaker’s comfort zone that it comes across as little more than bad swords and sorcery made for TV movie. The actors are professionals doing their best to give their fans a commendable performance, but it is a decidedly an uphill battle neigh on impossible to overcome. Within the last few scenes of the story, there are a considerable number of loose ends and traditional aspects of the Arthurian legend that the best friends of now King Arthur are duly knighted, and a large round table is uncovered. It appeared that the studio demand the production completed, the conclusion left things open for a sequel but considering the estimated budget of $175,000,000 resulting in a domestic box office gross of just over $40 million. We may be spared the second act. The 3D effects are about average for an action film with a few ingenious effects to spice up an otherwise by the numbers production.