Monty Python and the Holy Grail gave us a cheeky, satirical version of the classic literary tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The merry, ragtag band of Monty Python misfits had no hesitation in butchering and bastardizing every crevice of the Arthurian legend. Punctuated by an iconic cop-out ending, Holy Grail remains one of the most memorable movies ever to grace our eyeballs.
Decades later, history repeats itself in 2017’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Guy Ritchie takes the helm of this modern take of the tale. Much like Holy Grail, King Arthur butchers the legends to a bloody, red pulp. Only this time, King Arthur will not go down in history as a memorable or even great Arthurian adaptation.
Adapted to death
Much can be said against churning out any more Arthurian movies. We already have Holy Grail, The Sword in the Stone, and 2004’s King Arthur. Heck, even Michael Bay’s latest Transformers flick will take a stab at a more robotic version of the tale. There’s only so much you can do with that story, yet Ritchie (along with co-writers Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram) delivers a take too modern and too adrenaline-fueled for its own good.
King Arthur is an origin story of the eponymous hero before the formation of the Knights of the Round Table at Camelot. Raised on the streets, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) finds himself in a war against King Vortigern (Jude Law), a power-hungry tyrant eager to supress the resistance against his rule. A brooding mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) leads Arthur to Excalibur from where he draws immense power to defeat the magical forces of evil.
It sounds simple enough, but no. What could have been a gripping tale of identity and resistance devolves into a mishmash of action scenes without much development behind the plot and its characters. All eyes are on Hunnam’s smooth-talking, happy-go-lucky Arthur or on Law’s tortured Macbethian king. All the other characters fit into convenient tropes that never develop beyond their literary bounds. There’s the mysterious mage. There are token black and Asian characters (that would’ve been beaten to death had they been in that time period, might I add). There are random henchmen who have to die so the story can progress. By the end, there are so many characters that you can’t be faulted for forgetting their names.
Almost saved by the Ritchie
King Arthur shines dimly through its rambunctious mess of a plot through Ritchie’s creative storytelling. This film is an exercise of his directorial prowess. Ask him to direct The Room and he might even make it a decent drama. If anything, King Arthur is veritable eye candy because of Guy Ritchie’s direction.
In fact, King Arthur even seems self-aware of how inane its plot is. One of the film’s highlights is the barroom banter style made famous by Guy Ritchie. When the hero tells a story in a cheeky, stream of consciousness way, you know you’re in for a ride. It might leave you with more questions than answers, but at least it somehow explains something. These are found aplenty in King Arthur, most notably as the scene you can watch in the trailer. They are rapid and haphazardly brazen which is exactly how the entire King Arthur story is plotted. The film goes off from tangent to tangent. One question is answered but many more pop up.
Aware or not, King Arthur is a whirlwind to watch. Yes, I know that Arthur became King, but I have no idea what the Dark Lands are or how he even got there. There are plot points that characters do explain verbally. But you’ll be surprised that important schemes are condense into Ritchie-esque scenes that belong more in his heist movies. Even with a two-hour runtime, it’s impossible to keep up with the entire plot.
King Arthur goes by too fast without explaining much of anything. The standard set pieces are there–Arthur pulling Excalibur from the stone, Arthur becoming king, the forces of magic aiding Arthur–but none to signify how piece to piece connect cohesively. Yes, the scenes themselves stand out, but without the glue to hold them together, you’ve got just a collection of music videos. (To its credit, King Arthur does have a memorable soundtrack.)
It goes to show that a top-caliber director can only do so much with a terrible story. While I do see Ritchie’s attempt at creating a story to inspire self-identity against peer pressure, it’s just too much for a feature film to handle. King Arthur seems better suited for a mini-series, rather than a two-hour movie. If it had been written for a longer runtime, it would’ve probably fared better. But it wasn’t.
King Arthur doesn’t go down well. At best, it’s enjoyable but forgettable. It’s painful to fathom how the ending can leave such an open door for a multiple movie franchise.
Please, let’s not go to Camelot anymore. It’s a silly place.