The epic tales of King Arthur and the knights of the round table may be some of the most recognizable stories in fiction, but the titular monarch and his friends don’t really get that much love on the big screen. Which is why a cinematic reboot directed by the guy behind British gangland cult-hits was totally necessary.
In King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, the back-alley scoundrel Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) discovers his true heritage as the rightful king of Camelot. Now wielding the magical sword of Excalibur and backed by a resistance movement, Arthur must face his destiny and reclaim the throne from his traitorous uncle, Vortigern (Jude Law).
All jokes aside, King Arthur is a good example of how well-written ideas don’t always translate to the big screen. King Arthur had interesting ways to tackle its source material, but it still screwed up almost everything else.
Knights of the Edgy Table
For the most part, the original Arthurian lore is a collection of straightforward heroics. Merely retreading these chivalrous tales won’t cut it with today’s audiences and trends – especially since definitive Arthurian adaptations like Excalibur (1981) already exist. If there was a fantasy epic that deserved a retelling, it was King Arthur’s.
This is where Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur shines: reinterpreting Arthur’s origins into an edgy dark fantasy helped Legend of the Sword stand out as its own stab at Arthurian myths. Though this led to predictable elements like a standard good versus evil plot or nonsensical bullshit like a final fight between Arthur and Skeletor from He-Man or a giant fucking snake, King Arthur should be given credit for having some creativity.
The changes affected the characters too, who are far from the smug assholes who have dominated the fantasy genre ever since Game of Thrones became a thing. Arthur and company may be a bunch of stereotypes, but they at least belong in this grimy take on a familiar epic. The self-serious and obviously evil antagonists, though, looked lost in this seedy take on Camelot. If Vortigern and his cohorts were concerned with ruling Camelot instead of gaining bullshit evil magic, King Arthur would have felt more like Ritchie’s version of Arthurian yarns instead of a Medieval-themed Marvel movie knock-off.
Ritchie’s Epic Problems
King Arthur implodes because of how poorly executed it is. The already formulaic story of Arthur’s journey to becoming a hero isn’t helped by tiresome plot cliches and tropes that could be seen coming a mile away, turning any attempt at emotion into shitty melodrama.
Ritchie’s direction is also jarring, since he’s at his best when he tells small-scale stories about a gangland – not in a massive blockbuster fantasy epic. This leads to conflicting tones and the inkling that King Arthur feels like two movies: a run-on-the-mill fantasy epic that apes The Lord of the Rings, and Ritchie’s signature fare. It’s obvious that Ritchie cares for one style over the other, turning the movie into an inconsistent mess where individual parts are better developed than the whole. You know a medieval epic is fucked when the swordfights induce more boredom than a bunch of smarmy stereotypes shit-talking for the nth time.
The editing is fucking atrocious and incomprehensible too, and this proved detrimental to the movie. The quick-cuts and editing tricks used to spice up Ritchie’s fast-talking scenes don’t work with the battles that feature magic and giant elephants. Instead, it looks like some coked-up asshole shoved the movie in a blender and left people confused as to what the fuck is going on. It’s easy to get lost in the sparse action sequences more than the lore, and given how surprisingly intricate the latter is, that’s saying something.
A Soon to be Forgotten Legend
Unlike what most critics claimed, I don’t think King Arthur is this year’s worst cinematic offering, but it certainly is one of the year’s most fucking physically painful experiences I’ve had while watching a movie. Dreary visuals and epileptic editing turned this movie into an overlong clusterfuck that sucked out whatever entertainment value it could’ve had, and it’s a movie I wouldn’t bother revisiting in the future.
The worst thing about King Arthur is the amount of wasted potential it had. Revamping King Arthur’s story into a dark fantasy was good on its own, but it’s an idea that was better executed on paper than on film. Instead of being a cool epic that had Ritchie’s classic underdog swagger, King Arthur is a relentless assault on the senses that’s as formulaic as any failed blockbuster franchise can get.
It’s been said that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was meant to kick-start a franchise of six movies set in Camelot. Thank fucking Christ that this will never come to pass, since the last thing audiences deserve are more Excalibur-induced migraines.
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