It’s been out for a bit. Guy Ritchie’s foray into fantasy was a spectacle to behold, being full of amazing and awesome and… Pacing issues. And CGI. On Rotten Tomatoes, critic score of 28%; viewer score of 78%. Quite a discrepancy between those numbers. I’ll chuck it up to the growing rift between gatekeeping “experts” and the overwhelming input of Average Joe voter: the masses currently mean more than the “critics” to me, especially when it comes to historically important lit.
First off. I’m a King Arthur purist. In BOOK form. And if anyone knows the legends, the tellings are multiple, complex, and likely not nearly as historical as one would think. You know. Because Merlin was a mage. If you aren’t able to step around the idea of a fantastical retelling of anything historical, when you walk into a theater, you have no place being in a theater. IMHO.
Spoilers ahead. I have a bit to say.
Alright so I’ll start with what I loved–and this runs counter to a lot of critics’ personal tastes–because yeah. First: the soundtrack was powerful. Hard rock swordfighting scenes? Hard dubstep training montages? Yes please. I’ll take seconds.
The opening scene was phenomenal to watch. Like, mind-blowing. And wow. I wanted to bathe in that scene for about a week. Uber-phants housing a team of mages that slaughtered thousands. The resolution of that scene was meh, but I’ll get to that later.
I loved the Excalibur conversation, the connection between father and son, and the creepy uncle person Jude the Magnificent. The not-merlin. The first time I heard his last name, I thought they said Foreskin, so every time anyone hailed the king, I chuckled. Because I’m apparently an adolescent forever.
All the actors, and I mean all of them except for Little Finger (I think his name was Goose Fat? In this? Or something?), were fantastic in their performances. They drew me in. They elevated my thought process. They inspired me with their movements. Jude Law in particular. The mage as well. Even the secondary characters were muah. Beautiful. Except for Goose Fat. Even the Vikings were powerful in their charisma. Well done. The people surrounding Arthur were believable, developed, fleshed, and when they died, they died as people. It was nice to see supporting characters being something other than meat shields.
This movie was full of really interesting dialogue. Guy Ritchie is a master at this. I don’t remember details of most of them, because I was watching, but at the end, Skeletor says “Come lay with me,” to Arthur. It sent reverberations down my spine, because it put a twist on the “Vengeance digs two graves” idea. Beautiful.
Now. What I didn’t like.
The preview for this movie used cuts from the beginning and ending, with nothing from in-between. This was a movie of grand actions on either end–intro and climax–with a lot of walking, montages, and planning sandwiched in-between. Tried, quick Ritchie cuts zooming in to characters’ action/reaction, over and over, became a little frustrating because, while needed, didn’t do much to connect the observer to the story. You are supposed to be emotionally connected to the character already, I think, and I wasn’t. The Oreo cookie ends were grand armies fighting. The creme filling was Snatch with medieval guys planning a heist.
I skip a lot of genre sci-fi/fantasy movies because of the overplayed tropes of BOSS FIGHT! culmination after walking through a series of progressively stronger battles. Invading alien army? Cut the head off the snake, the army dies. The only story I’ve ever read where this works is Ender’s Game. Everyone else is just lazy. In movies, a single, precise strike on one person ends the resistance. This movie felt no different. Opening scene: King Uther single-handedly climbs an elephant the size of the Hoover Dam, climbs in, kills the mage in charge, elephants go nuts, killing the entire enemy army currently on said elephants and leaving the rest stranded. Too neat. Too easy. Lazy writing. Then, right after, Uncle Foreskin-as-Evil-Ghost-Rider gains great power for a moment, kills King Uther in a dockside battle. Alone.
Bruce Wayne Young Arthur watches his parents die as a child. In an alley on a dock. Nobody sees but he, drifting into a fog on a boat where Uncle Foreskin could just… wade into the water and kill him. No. Magic? He loses interest? Magical Lethargy from Uncle? Plot. Speed of plot. That’s it.
And the end of the movie is no different. In a noted repeat of the first scene, King Foreskin sacrifices for more power, again, and then fights Arthur with his double-scythe as Skeletor. Weak writing all around.
Also, what’s with the king wearing a suit in medieval England? Scratching my head. I’m all for fantasy, but when Mr. Tux walks in with perfect white clothing and matching black jacket/pants, I frown really hard.
Arthur traversed the movie trying to be an anti-hero: I have no part in this, he says over and over again. More fantasy tropes I could leave behind. “I watched my parents die, I’ve had nightmares my entire life about that single scene, every night, and I know who killed them because I saw it, but nah. I’m not the guy to do it. Oh? The sword talks to me? It’s the strongest sword ever? Nah. Lil kid? You can have it.”
Like the mostly whitewashed cast, this character could have used a little diversity. But again, plot. Injected drama. Weak writing.
Now, to the fighting. This movie was a video game in more ways than one. First, this movie was dedicated to telling a story with as little fighting as possible. Beside the first scene, a run scene where the guards shoot fireworks(!?) to corral the freedom fighters, and the ending, there was no sword fighting. The montage showed flashes of hand-to-hand combat with Arthur, and a weird scene where Arthur sits in his bed and fake-punches his face a thousand times, but other than that, there was virtually nothing. How does a movie whose foundations come from a pair of wars, with armies, avoid fighting?
When the fighting got serious, Arthur turned CGI. These end-alls to the fighting felt like cut scenes. Because they were. And his sword did all the talking, breaking through all the steel, blowing masked (faceless) bad guys away in a gust of skin-removing wind (that left the buildings oddly intact). CGI snakes and birds flew in to be entirely disruptive, albeit confusing. Lots of shaky cam footage of fighting, where I got triggering flashbacks of the Bourne series. Fist, foot, sword, wall, yell. The end fight, being all CGI–because Arthur fought Skullhead the Barbarian–had most of the weapon connections between them off-screen, sparks shooting into the shot, but leaving the observer confused as to the progression of the fight. So not only was the swordplay training weak, the CGI was weak. Needlessly complex. Video gamey.
Why can’t anyone use weapons? Just throwing that out. Spend money on the actual people who fight for a living, save money on whatever dumpster fire that CGI was, and you’ll be set. #managed
I understand why people liked the movie. It was visually exciting some of the time. I felt inspired by it, for the reasons I listed first. I felt inspired by it, also, partially because of the negative reasons, too. I could do this better. I could improve on this a lot. Write your own, right?
I’d watch it again. Especially with someone beside me. Overall, I loved it. It’s not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but great movies, anymore, are so specific to taste that I often fall in love with movies nobody else likes.
Except for Arrival. Everyone loved Arrival.