Thursday, May 11, 2017

Guy Ritchie's King Arthur

When I first heard that Guy Ritchie was going to direct a King Arthur movie my reaction was that this could well be the worst idea for a movie I'd ever heard. By that standard, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is actually better than I expected. Don't get me wrong, it's a full-on trainwreck in innumerable ways, but it wasn't altogether unwatchable. (Let's see them work that ringing endorsement onto the poster.)

This movie is (supposedly) about King Arthur, played here by the often shirtless Charlie Hunnam, and his magic sword which apparently can freeze time while also creating shock waves and explosions. (Who knew?) However, it becomes blatantly obvious Guy Ritchie (who both directed and co-wrote the movie) has no real idea who Arthur is. It's like he saw a poorly-translated anime on the subject and decided to make his own movie. It's so bad that this movie should come with a disclaimer that any relation to King Arthur or his legend is purely coincidental.

The film opens years before Arthur's birth with his father's victory over the wizard Mordred (who in Arthur canon is actually Arthur's inbred son. So... how does that work?). In this version of events Uther (Eric Bana) rules over Camelot. (Um... isn't Arthur responsible for creating Camelot?) Meanwhile Uther's wizard brother (Jude Law) conspires against him while attacking the very allies who gave him his poorly-explored magical powers. (Uther has a brother now? And he's a wizard? Okay, you're just fucking with us now aren't you Ritchie?)

The first of the film's many flash-forwards takes us few years into the future when Vortigern (Law) kills Arthur's parents and seizes the throne. Arthur survives to be raised down the river in a whorehouse and, after another fast-forward, become a small-time street criminal and enforcer. (This isn't getting any better, is it?) Eventually Arthur is given his turn to pull the sword from the stone. When he successfully completes the task Vortigern keeps him alive for days, allowing his legend to grow and the thief to eventually escape. This, of course, allows Arthur and his band of merry men to rise up against him forcing the wizard king to seek more power from the bizarre tentacle woman who lives beneath his castle. Oh, did I not mention that part yet? That's right, Arthur's uncle is basically Ursula's bitch.

Let's look for what works. Somehow I think this is going to be a short list. Hunnam definitely has some screen presence, and, unlike everyone else on-screen, seems to understand just how ridiculous a story he's stepped into. While others play the events straight, Hunnam attempts to have some fun with the bat-shit crazy proceedings unfolding in front of his character. The film has a fairly good pace, partially to the absurd numbers of fast-forwards and montages that skim right by major plot points and character development. Rocky IV may be jealous of the amount of montage Ritchie gets away with here. Damn, I was looking for positives. Let's see... it's in focus. The film offers an unique perspective on the stone housing Excalibur. Despite it sheer ridiculousness and many, many faults, or possibly because of it, the film does have a certain B-movie charm. And the comraderie between Arthur and his male companions works fairly well.

The women in Guy Ritchie's world don't quite fair as well. In fact of the half-dozen or so that have important supporting roles only two (a whore and a traitor) are given names on-screen. The powerful female wizard (Astrid Berg├Ęs-Frisbey) who helps Arthur command and wield Excalibur? No name. The mother (Poppy Delevingne) who gave her life to save him? No name. Vortigern's wife (Katie McGrath) and daughter, who play major roles in his rise to power? No name. The Lady of the Lake (Jacqui Ainsley)? No Name. The weird tentacle woman under the castle? No name. Hmm, anyone else sensing a pattern here?

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is really only watchable because it's a clusterfuck that makes the least amount of sense possible while still attempting to be a cohesive story. How crazy is this film? Arthur's hero journey takes place nearly entirely inside a montage of a dark ethereal land filled with giant bat creatures which is never explained and lasts all of three-minutes. Vortigern's power is controlled by how large a tower he can raise to honor his tentacle woman (how's that for phallic symbology?). And Excalibur is somehow the sword equivalent of the Last Airbender. I'm not sure what's happening on-screen, but it's got an excess of Ritchie's usual style and, even when it makes no sense whatsoever, it's never really boring. I guess that's something.

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