GUEST CRITIC #24: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
As busy I get from time to time, I find that I can't see every movie under the sun, leaving my friends and colleagues to fill in the blanks for me. As poetically as I think I wax about movies on this website as a wannabe critic, there are other experts out there. Sometimes, it inspires me to see the movie too and get back to being my circle's go-to movie guy. Sometimes, they save me $9 and you 800+ words of blathering. In a new review series, I'm opening my site to friend submissions for guest movie reviews.
I would like you all to meet Steve Clifton. Based in Maine, Steve is the film critic and creator of the website Popcorn Confessional. In his own words, he has been writing moderately well on the Internet for over ten years. Steve considers himself a middle-aged fanboy, a starving audience demographic group he will never be alone in. He is an unabashed aficionado of 1980's culture, is mildly abused by pandas, and the guy loves guacamole, which means he has good taste in more than just the kitchen.
I recently became a social media acquaintance of Steve and a follower of his Popcorn Confessional work through my blog work with Feelin' Film. He is also a regular blog contributor and occasional on-air guest on the podcast site of Aaron White and Patrick Hicks. His "Steve Says..." column isn't afraid to swing for the feels or for the daggers. He and I are currently dueling with Aaron and Patrick in their Summer Movie Challenge.
Steve Clifton acknowledges that his relevance in today's culture is barely recognized. I'm right there with him, but, both he and I continue to pretend people like us. Maybe you will too.
My history with writer/director Guy Ritchie’s work is lacking. With only the two Sherlock Holmes films under my belt- films I will credit for being semi-ambitious even though I found both to be sleep inducing slogs- I did plan to take a peek into his other films at some point. Now, after enduring 126 minutes of Ritchie’s Arthurian vision, I can say without regret that the need to review his past filmography is no longer on my plate. "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" is a bloated, incoherent piece of trash helmed by a director who couldn’t seem to decide between telling the origin story of King Arthur or filming live action versions of the worst heavy metal album covers from the 80’s.
The tale of King Arthur is classic, but much like the debate with superhero films, rehashing the origins on screen yet again feels unnecessary. By now, we all understand that boy pulls sword from stone and shenanigans ensue en route to becoming a much revered king of the people. But if you must travel these roads again, do so in a way that doesn’t remove the class from the classic. I’m okay with filmmakers exploring their own creative visions, but there are ways to pull that off by not cheapening the source material. What Ritchie has effectively done here is remove all of the noblest traits of Arthur and replace them with a dickish arrogance, using set pieces barely worthy of inclusion in a bargain bin video game. Some will defend this as ambition in storytelling. I’m going with lack of patience and discipline with no regard for cohesive narrative.
The film starts as a battle between the armies of the Mage, Mordred (Rob Knighten) and of King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) of Camelot. Once Uther defeats the Mage, the story channels "The Lion King," as Uther’s brother Vortigern (Jude Law) plots to overthrow Uther to claim the throne he desperately covets. Vortigern’s treasonous act leaves Uther and his wife dead, as their son, Arthur, escapes in a boat unharmed, his destiny as the true heir and savior of the kingdom set in stone. Grown into a man, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam), gradually acknowledges his role as hero, reluctant as he is to be so. This is where Ritchie’s script, co-written by Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram, becomes frustrating. There is no heart of a champion in this Arthur. Hunnam is forced into portraying him with a cocky arrogance more worthy of his Sons of Anarchy days than of the boy who would be king. The focus, as the title alludes to, is on the sword, Excalibur, posited here as a tool of supernatural ability if put into the hands of the right person to wield it. Though that person is obviously Arthur, the champion’s role is earned only by nature of his lineage, never due to his ability to handle the title. If the wand truly had the ability to choose the wizard, I’m guessing it wouldn’t have chosen Arthur.
Aside from the principal characters, there is a lot of good talent sprinkled throughout, such as the likes of Djimon Hounsou, Aiden Gillen, Tom Wu, and Astrid Berges-Frisbey. But many of these characters are misused. They serve the growth of Arthur as little more than babysitters resigned to the fact that Arthur is a necessity in that only he can learn to use Excalibur as it is intended. As some of these characters will become part of Arthur’s ensemble of round table knights further down the road, the lack of connection they have with Arthur as a true leader makes all of the payoff feel unearned.
Every transition in this film feels incongruous- one moment paying homage to the traditional Arthurian legend- the next a layering on of nonsensical exposition that only serves to muddy an already convoluted vision. The moments that are familiar- the drawing of the sword, quick references to the Lady in the Lake- feel tacked on as necessities to unlock the King Arthur Achievement needed to face the ultimate boss battle yet to come. When the film inches toward some semblance of social theme, as it does with Vortigern’s Nazi-like rule of his kingdom, Ritchie veers away quickly in favor of more bombastic visuals and meaningless narrative tedium. Cutting between slow motion camera work, indecipherable action sequences, and what appear to be Go-Pro enhanced cut shots isn’t ambitious, it’s obnoxious.
Whatever Guy Ritchie is trying for here, he fails. "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword," is an embarrassment that makes Antoine Fuqua’s 2004 "King Arthur" stand out as high art in comparison. There is too much talent on display here to be wasted on such meaningless guff that does nothing to elevate or enhance the legend or legacy of King Arthur and his knights. This is a bad video game posited as cinema, complete with uninteresting battles, characters, and an anticlimactic finale that takes twenty minutes too long to arrive. This is worth no one’s time.
RATING: 0 out of 4 STARS
It's a week of Steves! Thank you, Mr. Clifton! Come back anytime, your work is always welcome. Let's keep this going, folks. Friends, if you see a movie that I don't see and want to be featured on my website (and get a fun fake biography written about you), hit up my website's Facebook page and you can be my next GUEST CRITIC!