Since I’m about to see director Guy Ritchie’s take on Aladdin I thought I would take an opportunity to watch the last movie Guy Ritchie directed which I never got around to watching. Spoilers ahead if you’ve never seen this movie.
I wasn’t expected much from this movie. It did not perform or review well when it came out a couple of years ago. However, I am a Guy Ritchie fan and I have a soft spot for flops, especially fantasy flops. I often recognize why a movie flopped or wasn’t reviewed well, but I also often enjoy those movies for what they are and what they were trying to convey.
I would like to say first and foremost that I enjoyed this movie. It definitely has some issues and Ritchie’s style is certainly not hard to miss, but overall I enjoyed the story, characters, action and direction they were trying to go with. This is not the standard King Arthur Story, although it contains many of the same tropes, and almost feels more like Robin Hood meets King Arthur.
The film begins with Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father, battling an evil wizard who is threatening to destroy his kingdom and more specifically the city of Camelot. The battle seems hopeless until Arthur breaks out the magical sword Excalibur, climbs a ginormous elephant and defeats the evil wizard. Soon after Uther is betrayed by his brother Vortigern, who was in league with the evil Wizard and is a wizard himself. In his last moments Uther is unable to save his wife who is killed by a demon of some kind. However, as he fights the demon, he saves his son Arthur by placing him in a boat and sends him down the river Moses style.
Front there we flash forward in time to when Arthur is in his late 20s in a very action cut Guy Ritchie style which kind of works but is also kind of jarring. The one big issue with this movie is that Guy Ritchie really swings for the fences with his jump cuts, action montages and occasional slow motion action set piece. These work occasionally but mostly feel jarring and out of place with the setting and motif.
When we meet Arthur as an adult he is running a sort of Robin Hood like gang and protects the women who raised him in the fictional Londonium. Early on Arthur picks a fight with men who abused some of these women and has to go on the run to survive. Soon after he is captured and brought back to Camelot with other young men from around the the Kingdom. Recently the sword Excalibur has been unearthed when the rivers lowered. Now the Evil King Vortigern, Arthur’s backstabbing uncle, is seeking to find the lost boy Arthur, kill him and snuff out a rebellion which believes Arthur, with Excalibur, can defeat him.
Arthur doesn’t know his own past and doesn’t hesitate pulling the sword from the stone. He successfully pulls the sword, but faints soon after when his nightmares of the demon he saw kill his parents turn into visions. After a brief family reunion with his Uncle, Arthur is brought before all of Camelot to be beheaded. However, as luck would have it a female sorcerer, simply called the mage, sent by Merlin has arrived and is assisting the rebellion to save our would be and reluctant King.
Arthur utterly refuses his birth right and still doesn’t understand how important he is. The mage claims he must visit the shadowlands. This leads to something I really disliked in this movie.
I felt robbed of a scene where Arthur travels to the shadowlands in order to confront the demons of his past so he can understand why he must take the mantle of King. The sequence appears to be really cool and takes place over a few days or weeks. He fights cool looking monsters and faces near death experiences. However, the whole thing is an action montage that teases us but leaves us unsatisfied. I would have loved a longer amount of time in this world. Moments of self reflection as Arthur struggles with his responsibilities as he slowly understands the truth. Instead, he goes into the shadowlands, fights some things, the music is all action, the jump cuts are very present and when he leaves he magically has a change of heart and decides to help. All in a matter of minutes in the film.
In this scene’s defense the film does revisit the themes of family, legacy and responsibility throughout the rest of the film as he struggles to truly use the full power of Excalibur. This segment just seemed really cool and I felt like it was a huge missed opportunity.
That statement, “Huge Missed Opportunity”, could very well be the perfect statement for this movie. I think Charlie Hunnam is perfect in the role of Arthur. He has the swagger and charm the character needs and looks the part. Jude Law is great as the villain, but he is good in just about everything he is in. The side characters do a fune job with no true standouts or disappointments. Uther is played by Eric Bana, who in another life should have been Hollywood’s biggest leading man, and does a great job with the role he is given. The actress playing the mage does a good job and I get the feeling that in future installments she would have revealed her name was Guinevere.
The film ends with a promise of more to come and unfortunately that will never happen. I would love to see more films in this franchise, perhaps not directed by Guy Ritchie, or at least maybe Guy Ritchie with his foot on the break a little bit more. The mythology is there and the world building was good, but nobody came out to have dinner at this round table (did you see what I did there … round table … knights of the round table …well I laughed). Despite the score I give this movie I did enjoy it and will add it to the list of fun guilty pleasures.