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The UnPopular Opinion: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

11.02.2017

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

Do you remember when Guy Ritchie was being declared the next big filmmaker? After LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS and SNATCH, Ritchie was the Golden Boy in Hollywood. Then, after a string of mediocre films, Ritchie bounced back with the box office hit SHERLOCK HOLMES films. Then, Ritchie fell into mediocrity again. Some blame being married to Madonna while others say that Ritchie’s rat-a-tat style was just too dated to be cool anymore. But, Ritchie has never stopped trying to make films his way with increasingly ambitious scale. First there was the critically underappreciated THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and now there is KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD. During a summer box office that languished amid sequels and unwanted reboots, KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD is pretty damn good, especially if you keep your expectations in check. With a stellar cast and some of Ritchie’s distinct visual trademarks, KING ARTHUR deserved to do so much better domestically and internationally than a total gross of $150 million.

The legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table has been fodder for ever type of film from musical to comedy. With a wide range of genre interpretations like THE SWORD IN THE STONE, EXCALIBUR, and Antoine Fuqua's early 2000s version, Arthurian tales have a limited range of storytelling options. With technology as advanced as ever, the logical studio move would be to adapt the vast histories of ancient Britain into a massive franchise focused on the various characters with the culmination being an AVENGERS-like crossover event film. Now, you probably couldn't hear the sarcasm in that sentence, but it was brimming with it. While I would love to see further stories in the KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD sequence, we likely never will and that is a shame as the movie works despite gaping plot holes thanks to an incredibly selected cast led by a pitch perfect Charlie Hunnam and a visceral bad guy in the form of Jude Law. Even Guy Ritchie's style works in the tempered doses that pepper this film. While it is far from the level one would expect from a film that cost as much as this one did, it is still a fun and well made popcorn flick.

King Arthur, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, The UnPopular Opinion, Drama, Fantasy, War, Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Eric Bana, Guy Ritchie

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD was originally marketed as a SNATCH-esque crime caper like classic Guy Ritchie. While there are two key sequences in this movie that focus on the rapid fire British dialogue and quick editing that made the director's early flicks so memorable, there is more focus put on making this tale about a born king who wants nothing to do with the path chosen for him. In more family friendly takes on the story, Arthur is raised by Merlin or as an orphan in a more innocent manner. Here, he is raised in a whorehouse and trains as a bare-knuckled fighter. Giving Arthur a more street level origin takes the sheen off of his rise to power. But, like Charlie Hunnam's roles in PACIFIC RIM and on the television series Sons of Anarchy, the actor is able to channel his everyman likeability and matinee idol good looks to give us an Arthur unlike any we have seen before. The writers even made the wise choice of not giving him his true crown until the closing scene of the film and even then he accepts it with the caveat that he will rule the way he wants to, not by the accepted rules of the crown.

Some may also cry foul at the idea that the Knights of the Round Table are no longer the traditional European white males but instead feature Djimon Hounsou, Game of Thrones' Aiden Gillen, and Tom Wu. But the range of ethnicities featured are not so much about making Arthur and his crew more acceptable to international movie viewers (although I am certain that was a consideration), but it also speaks to the diversity of people living in medieval Europe. It also casts an eye on the world Arthur intends to make rather than play by traditional rules. The biggest risk taken with this film is the lack of Merlin. While he is name-checked, we instead get the unnamed Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) who guides Arthur's ascent to the highest title in the land by use of magic. When marketing a King Arthur film, there are certain elements to the story you can rely on like Merlin that audiences can anchor their expectations to and KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD refuses to do so.

And that is the biggest reason why this film failed. Marketed as Guy Ritchie's King Arthur, I expected the movie to be along the lines of the steampuk SHERLOCK HOLMES film, full of anachronistic visual cues that modernize the story. In fact, KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD is surprisingly traditional but with a modern sensibility. Rewatching the trailers, not once did I feel like there was a true encapsulation of just how much magic and supernatural is on display in the film. After seeing it, I was very pleased to find that it is squarely a fantasy film and not the realistic and gritty movie the trailers would lead you to believe. There is an alternate dimension that the villainous Vortigern (Jude Law) uses to transform himself into Mordred, giant animals, a lake monster, and other magical visions. As much as I enjoyed Duncan Jones' WARCRAFT, I almost feel the visual flair Guy Ritchie demonstrates here would have been better suited for adapting that video game for the big screen. This movie is dark and edgy in all the right ways and still manages to stay true to the source material.

Had this film been directed by anyone else, it could have been a rote and generic retelling of a story retold over and over again. But, Ritchie brings an irreverance to the material that keeps you watching and engaged during the entire 126 minute runtime. Clocking in at just two hours, the movie never overstays it's welcome but doesn't rush through the material either. It takes a full hour before Arthur even pulls the sword from the stone and is revealed to be the savior and that affords enough character building time to believe in his ascent while also leaving enough material for further additions to the franchise. This is aided by a truly epic soundtrack scored by Daniel Pemberton that helps bring the battle sequences between Vortigern and Arthur as well as the sweeping battle shots to a level worthy of Peter Jackson. Overall, KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD is the first medieval, gritty, revisionist martial arts sword and scorcery epic I never knew I always wanted.

King Arthur, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, The UnPopular Opinion, Drama, Fantasy, War, Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Eric Bana, Guy Ritchie

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD is hands down Guy Ritchie's most accomplished film to date. It is a technical marvel that looks better than most of the movies released this summer and has multiple scenes that I will quote from here on out. It easily ranks alongside ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES as a film that just pure fun in showcasing classic British folklore in a unique modern style. If it fails at anything, it is assuming that there would be the planned five sequels that would complete this tale. KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD feels like the beginning of a story which may have been it's downfall. But, it is a very entertaining first chapter that warrants at least one viewing and will likely result in multiple. So, if you want fun entertainment that wiill not overly tax your knowledge of British folklore or traditional Arthurian legends, this is the movie for you. If anything, you will not know what is going to happen which is something not many can say about any other King Arthur movie.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected], spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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