How does this happen? I love Guy Ritchie motion pictures, especially his scam/caper films like Snatch, Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and RockNrolla. But the fast cutting, fast talking, explain everything through flash backward and flash forward editing kills King Arthur.
In this retelling, Arthur is orphaned in the films opening minutes as King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) defeats Mordred, and Prince Vortigern (Jude Law) then betrays his brother and gains supernatural powers by killing his wife/sacrificing her to a lake octopus creature. Trust me, it’s as dumb as it sounds. Arthur is adopted by a bunch of prostitutes in some version of very old London, and then is trained to be a super hero by Tom Wu. And we’re off.
The opening is mildly interesting, especially the growing up/training montage, tightly edited with great sound design in typical — but still fun — Ritchie style. Now, in the past I have argued in defense of style-over-substance filmmaking. And in a movie like this, I don’t even need big ideas or a great story. But oh my … things should make some sense shouldn’t they?
We spend two hours and 6 minutes (and apparently 170 million unconscionable dollars) following Charlie Hunnam’s Arthur through Middle Earth (oh, I mean England.) Arthur’s honorable, fair-minded and has a nice smile. He protects his friends, makes thieves give shit back, and is loved by all. Well, all except Uncle Vortigem, now King thanks to his fratricide (following his uxoricide.)
Along with lots of quick-cut and camera whipping fighting, we get a lot of magic. The Mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) occupies the only space lower than all the underdeveloped main characters in this movie. She is only woman who could even remotely be considered a main/supporting player, but we literally have no idea who she is, what her motivations are, or what her powers are (she is very powerful unless we need her to be and then she seems useless.) At least in the case of Arthur and his bros, we have some general sense that they are there for each other and want to do some general kind of good. The Mage? Unseen Merlin sent her. At least that’s what I think I remember.
As I sat in the theater, I looked really hard for redeemable qualities … the action? Over-done, over CGI’ed, way fast and dark. I couldn’t tell what the hell was going on. The exposition? Typically Guy Ritchie … talky, show us what might happen, show us what did happen, show us how it happened, show us it all in super-slow motion. And the language? Bizarrely out of place … somehow I don’t think anyone way back then would say “Do your fucking job.”
These filmmaking techniques worked great for Sherlock Holmes’ analytical action hero, but Arthur comes off as an anachronistic member of the Incredibles living out some time-travel nightmare in old England. King Arthur meets Timeline, and if I didn’t know Paul Walker was dead, I would be expecting him to time travel to help out Fast & Furious style.
Now I realize how this happens … someone lost their mind. And the studio lost its shirt. And apparently no one ever read the script, looked at the pre-viz or bothered to ever check anything Ritchie was doing with the GDP of a small country. This movie doesn’t have style or substance. There is no story, and the style rehash feels low-budget and low rent, regardless of how much they spent.
I give King Arthur a solid 2.5 of 10 out-of-season turkey’s. That 2.5 is for Charlie Hunnnam who is likable and gave a good effort … cuz no doubt it took a lot of work to make this bunch of zero’s and one’s.