When a director has a distinct personal style, the inner battle of the moviegoer is always a tug-of-war between hoping that you’ll get what you paid for and hoping to get a novel sensation. Director Guy Ritchie’s style has definitely evolved over the years, from the late ‘90s and shoestring budgets to today, with Disney’s wallet at his disposal for his next film, but it remains immediately recognizable. Described as Lord of The Rings meets Snatch, King Arthur: Legend of The Sword takes classic literature and a modern gangster film and makes a unique, scrappy little baby. It’s not a baby that will age all that excellently or go on to do great things, but it’s a child of enough creativity to carve out a neat little space to thrive.
One thing you don’t generally hear about $175 million dollar blockbusters is that they’re little. The more climactic moments would probably be offended to hear that, taking it as a sign that the action-packed battles and chase sequences didn’t accomplish the larger-than-life feeling that theaters exist to deliver. The main reason the film felt small was that, even though towers were built higher than skyscrapers and soldiers littered the streets, the world of the film felt like it had an invisible wall that you would run into when you ventured too far beyond the script. The kingdom, the armies, and even the climactic battles were mostly held to the same standards as a contemporary heist film would be. No matter how legendary by name, Camelot, the main setting of the film, felt constrained to a much smaller picture because of the tone the filmmakers took and the overall design of an intimate version of classical England.
The script was quippy and full of dialogue that could’ve come straight out of any other new release. Story-wise, it drew from a rich well and used the conflict of good and evil in ways that mirrored classic mythology, but on a grand scale. You get the feeling that a whole lot of compromises took place to keep everything intact, instead of the plot flowing and holding itself together.
Characters that have such an iconic history should have been able to stand out, but the companions on King Arthur’s journey felt more like walking pieces of set design. The ensemble had a lot of talent that inhabited empty space, practically fading into the background. While it was truly Arthur’s story and focused more on him than on the group, I couldn’t shake the feeling that our group of protagonists could’ve been more impressive.
The action scenes that Ritchie directs are often some of my favorite. They’re dynamic and heavy at the same time, often showing impact that most directors cut away from and thus poorly cheat the audience out of any sort of payoff from a fight scene (I’m looking at you, Guardians of The Galaxy). In King Arthur, the pacing of action is excellent, with a gradual evolution from a more generic quick look towards the beginning into the explosive brawling towards the end. This transition didn’t cause you to ignore a certain rigid staleness in some of the more graphically crowded scenes, but I found myself in a state of spotty enjoyment.
Overall you generally get what you paid for, with Jude Law being broodish and evil and Charlie Hunnam brawling through the London streets with his 60-pack. It is the type of action you’d expect of Guy Ritchie, but with a lot less of the charm and brutality I was hoping for. In the department of high octane action, an art form in and of itself, King Arthur appeared to me like a minute past fashionably late, hitting softly when it should have been strong and being heavy-handed when it needed to cool off. Though it wasn’t without its moments of exciting swordplay and modernized fairy tale action, I think a script rework or two and some cleaner fight scenes would have gone a long way toward cementing a solid and unique piece of lore instead of take-it-or-leave-it “twist” on a classic story.
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