Reeling it in: Guy Ritchie brings his style to King Arthur’s tale

“King Arthur – Legend of the Sword”

 

Warner Bros.

2 hours, 6 minutes

Sometimes it feels like there’s a fundamental imbalance in the way some movies are treated by the critics and, following after, the fickle public. Let’s compare two films – “The Fate of the Furious” and this week’s film, the latest entry into the swords and sorcery genre, “King Arthur – Legend of the Sword.”

“Fate,” though it didn’t ultimately get a lot of love from the critics, was given a huge lead in by countless breathless articles speculating on what the “Fast &Furious” family was going to be up to this time. The trailers and press releases about “Arthur,” however, were greeted with indifference at first, and then later scorn and ridicule right up the eventual wide release, a time when I’m sure the producers were wishing the pundits would just go back to being indifferent.

“Fate of the Furious” made something like a $100 billion dollars in its first ten minutes of release and is still raking it in, now rivaling the GDP of most mid-size countries. “Arthur,” on the other hand, ended up with six people in the audience, two of who were a drunk mother/daughter who thought they had bought tickets to “Snatched” instead.

Well, big deal, you might be thinking. Bad movies flop all the time. Why compare a success to a failure?

That’s the thing. Quality-wise, these movies are pretty equal. I’m not saying “King Arthur” is a great movie by any means, but it’s as good as “Fate” was, and the audience is pretty much the same people. But one movie was embraced by the industry and one was discarded. So, in a sense, a group of pundits in LA and New York decided what movie would be a success and which would be a failure. Isn’t that supposed to be the audience’s job?

This iteration of the oft-adapted medieval tale is fairly different from others of its ilk, aside from a few of the standard elements, i.e., the sword Excalibur, mentions of the wizard Merlin, and, spoiler alert, the eventual round table. Director Guy Ritchie brings some of his signature knock-about London backstreet patter and hyper filming style to the film, but only in a few isolated bursts, which has the effect of making the entire affair feel uneven.

Charlie Hunnam, of “Sons of Anarchy” fame as well as “Pacific Rim” and “The Lost City of Z” plays Arthur. In this version tale, the future King grows up as an orphan in London after he is set adrift on the Thames, Moses-like, after his family is murdered in a violent coup against Arthur’s father, King Uther Pendragon.

The kingdom, now ruled by Arthur’s uncle Vortigern, is in bad shape, so when the mythical sword Excalibur suddenly appears embedded in a large rock, people begin whispering about prophecy and a savior king. Vortigern’s plan is to have every male of the proper age try to pull the sword and whoever can gets the axe. Nice plan, but things never work out for the villain.

There’s not a lot of mystery about where the story is going, but I will say I enjoyed the trip, for the most part. Ritchie takes cues from fantasy novel covers from the 1960s and 70s and gives us a big, bold, magic-filled tale complete with giant snakes and skull-helmeted demons.

For most of the film, the visuals in this film are top-notch. The movie opens with an amazing battle where 200-foot tall elephants attack Camelot and includes one of the creepiest villains I’ve seen in a while, a trio of octomaids (think Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” except way creepier).

The acting is fine. Jude Law does a good job as the villainous King and Hunnam is a fine hunky actor, even if there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of hidden depth there. I enjoyed turns from Eric Bana, Aiden Gillen (who some will recognize as Littlefinger from “Game of Thrones”) and Djimon Hounsou, as well as a performance from an actor I’d never heard of, Neil Maskell, who plays Arthur’s best friend Back Lack.

Less impressive was Spanish actress Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as The Mage (magician). I’m sure she was directed this way, but her blank expression and flat delivery took me out of the movie every time.

The story rolls along at a pretty rapid clip for most of the runtime, and maintains at least a minimum of quality. It’s only in the final battle scene that everything starts to fall apart. I don’t play video games, but I swear I’ve seen trailers for games that looked better than this scene. For a movie that cost $175 million dollars to make, the climax sure looks awfully cheap.

In the end, I’d recommend “King Arthur” as an OK movie – one that could be considered a throwback to the big and bold sword and sorcery movies and stories of the 70s. It definitely stumbles some, but not nearly as much as the pundits had led me to believe.

“King Arthur — Legend of the Sword” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language.

Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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