Sometimes, I feel the critics are straight-up B.S.-ing. They were too harsh with this one. Not to say that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a great movie. It's not. But it's a fun diversion, and it's sly and unpretentious. There is even a kung fu guy.
I appreciate its try at a swerve. Courtesy of Guy Ritchie's handiwork, this one departs from cinema's traditional treatment of the Arthurian legend. This one posits that Arthur, robbed of his birthright, was raised in a brothel and forced to survive the slums of Londinium, learning the hard knock life while skirting the dreaded Blacklegs (5-0, to you and me). We eyeball Arthur as he grows up an enterprising thug with his fingers in all the pies. I grinned a lot because Arthur and his henchmen all insisted on behaving as if they were in the wrong movie, as if they were modern-day Cockney hoods in Snatch.
It's an Arthurian take for the A.D.D. generation. When his adviser updates the usurper king, his report smacks of the contemporary: "There's a general restlessness among the people. More incidents, more graffiti." Guy Ritchie, twelve cups of coffee downed, goes nuts with his signature jittery fast edits. The camera's frenzied energy bowls you over, tries to bluff you that there's more to the story than pretty visuals.
And that's the main issue, I think. The story required more work and more time put in. Instead, we get those fast edits and nifty rewinding scenes. And, sure, I enjoyed them. But that's the tradeoff, I guess. It's style over substance. Struggling students of Western Europe history are cautioned to not use this movie as cliff notes. The only clear-cut call-back to the original mythos is the sword in the stone. Ritchie couldn't topsy-turvy such an iconic element too much.
What sucks is that Ritchie's method of chaotic storytelling doesn't allow for deep character work. He doesn't do enough to make you care about the persons in his movie. I will say that Charlie Hunnam is really good as Arthur. But his character is such a superhero it's hard to relate to him. At one point, when he's advised to get to know the blade he yanked out of a rock, his surly retort goes: "I see what you're doing. You're trying to get me to do something razzle-dazzle with that sword." But we know it's not long before he starts wrecking sh-- with the sword. We're not ever worried about Arthur. We know he'll pull thru, no matter what. The others in the cast are stock characters and good for expressing a hard-boiled attitude and delivering the script's snappy street dialogue. Jude Law as the sinister sorcerer king, Vortigern, looks as if he's having an amazingly swell time, whether it's pulling off villainy moves or erecting that tower of his. Oh, and it's neat to see Aidan Gillen step out of his Littlefinger role. He plays one of Arthur's mates and is more revengy than Machiavellian. By the way, I can picture Littlefinger defending Guy Ritchie's chaotic direction: "Chaos isn't a pit. Chaos is a ladder."
Sucks that the third act is once again this huge CG-heavy fighty fight suckfest.
Also, I wanted more of Kung Fu George.
If you'd ever wondered what King Arthur would've been like if he were raised by benevolent whores and had street smarts, then this is your pit stop. It has storytelling flaws, sure, but I relished it for what it was. It sets a rollicking pace. It presents an Arthur with a more down-to-earth flash and all the more charismatic because he's portrayed as one of the rabble, uneducated, sure, but with oodles of street smarts and a knack for giving as good as he got, with words and with fists. Man, I really enjoyed Hunnam's brazen smack talk and his swagger. Huh, I guess I can relate to him after all.