Is there a more well known hero in entertainment, be it books, film, or even theater then King Arthur? I’m sure Robin Hood ranks up there but in the end it’s the OG equality crusader and his Knights of the round table. His fame is thanks mostly to the literary works depicting his adventures as his film outings to date haven’t exactly been widely well received. I’m not including myself in that, I love and have to the best of my memory always loved everything King Arthur. I’ve watched the Clive Owen version a dozen times, love Excalibur, hell, I even remember being enamored with a Saturday morning cartoon in the early 90’s that re-envisioned King Arthur and his knights as a high school football team that was transported to Camelot by Merlin…my bar isn’t high. You know what else I’ve always loved? Guy Ritchie. I’ll admit he had a low point in the mid-2000 “Madonna years” but the guy always hits when he’s being himself behind the camera. With a style that should be divisive but is universally respected Ritchie has cemented himself as THE most stylish British director of our time. This is all a long way to saying that I’m probably in the key demographic for this Guy Ritchie directed King Arthur movie. I wasn’t supremely confident in what we were going to get, though I try to go into each movie I watch without prejudice that’s not always the case. You can usually tell from a trailer if a movie is going to, for lack of a better term, suck. By the third trailer for this flick I started to worry, something about the cartoony CGI that was featured gave me the same feeling I got after seeing Doomsday in a late trailer for Batman V Superman, sometimes you CAN judge a book by its cover…just not this time.
The film takes a different spin on King Arthur with the heir to Pendragon (Charlie “Jax Teller” Hunnam) being orphaned and raised on the street by the workers of a brothel. His evil uncle and the cause for his lack of parentage, Vortigern (Jude Law) scours the land looking for his missing nephew after the lake surrounding Camelot drains itself revealing the sword in the stone. His plan is to find and eliminate Arthur before he can sway the people and take his rightful seat at the throne of Camelot. Arthur, being orphaned at about 2, has no clue about his lineage and, after freeing the sword from the stone, is rescued by a mage and disciple of Merlin along with a band of knights still loyal to Uther, Arthurs fallen father. In a classic “hunted becomes the hunter” situation Arthur and his newly found group must take the battle to Vortigern and take back Camelot before Vortigern can complete construction on a magic tower that amplifies his abilities and giving him the strength to become unbeatable.
As I mentioned before my bar wasn’t exactly high for this flick but whatever expectations I had Ritchie blew away by the 20th minute. The flick starts out with this large scale battle between knights and magicians with these gigantic elephants destroying everything in their perimeter. It’s epic and tense, filled with the kind of fantasy feeling that has been absent from movies since the 80s. The movie only delves to that fantasy well every so often but enough that it gives everything an overarching feel like you had when you were a kid watching something like Excalibur. The real cherry on top of the movie is where it diverts from where you think it would go, first and foremost this is a funny movie almost as funny as it is full of action thanks mostly to Guy Ritchie’s mastery of machine gunned British colloquial speech and highly stylized editing during story telling segments. Watching Arthur relay the events of the previous night to Djimon Hounsou’s Bedivere is worth the price of a ticket. The supporting cast is amazing, from the aforementioned Hounsou playing his typecast role of wise mentor to Aidan Gillen (Game of Throne’s Littlefinger) playing the opposite of the usual conniving, slimey, asshat’s he is usually stuck with as the endearing Goosefat Bill. The group surrounding Arthur is so good that you almost begin to get a Robin Hood and his merry men feel throughout the picture. The real star of the show is, well…the star of the show. Charlie Hunnam’s Arthur is unlike any portrayal we’ve seen before and is a perfect fit for Hunnam’s cocky yet endearing natural swagger. He tends to overact and over-emote but he seems comfortable as Arthur, natural even giving off an obvious aurora of leadership, bravery, and all around goodness. He is the perfect match for Ritchie’s vision of Arthur and Camelot. Should the film do as well as it deserves to do we will be on our way to the six film saga that has been envisioned and Hunnam will have found a way to change his career defining role from Jax Teller to something bigger. I LOVED Sons of Anarchy but Hunnam has proved with this film that he deserves a cinematic legacy as well as one on the small screen.
It’s not all perfect, I wasn’t wrong in my initial assessment about the CGI. It’s not as widespread as I initially would have guessed but there is poor CGI throughout the film. I don’t understand why CGI today, some 25 years after it’s real start in Jurassic Park falls in one of two categories, photorealistic and amazing or cartoonish and obviously fake. The final battle gets the worst of this as they begin to rely way to heavily on the green screen and we end up with a finale that seems more like a cut screen from a video game. I’m sure Arthur purists (is there such a thing?) will be turned off by the film as well but honestly, I think it knows where it’s heart is supposed to be. By the time the credits role Arthur is established and feels like the King from the stories, fair and humble, brave and noble. If anything I think Ritchie took what can ultimately end up being a boring “boy scout” of a character and gave him enough edge to be thoroughly enjoyable without forgetting what made him memorable. It goes without saying that I completely recommend this flick…it’s on my top 3 of the year so far and when it comes to pure enjoyment it sits firmly at the top.