There are lots of movies on my List of Shame. If it was released before the 60s, there’s a solid chance I haven’t seen it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in it! So you can come here to read about my first experience with movies I feel like I should have probably watched by now. And this isn’t limited to older classics. If it’s a movie I’m interested in, but just happened to miss, Playing Catch-Up is the series where you can find my thoughts on it!
I got my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine a few days ago and I was feeling quite sick the day after. I wanted to sit on the couch and watch movies all day, but my head hurt too much to be able to focus on one, let alone a full day of them. But by the end of the day, I finally started to feel better and browsed through the watchlists on all of my different streaming service accounts. Since I still wasn’t quite back at 100%, I wanted something I wouldn’t have to pay super close attention to, but would still find entertaining, so I settled on King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
I’ve said this in the past, but I typically enjoy a swords and kings and horses movie, as long as it has the minimal amount of care, craft, or style put into it. I like Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood more than most people, for example. And if there’s anything to be said about Guy Ritchie’s take on King Arthur, it’s that full of style.
Now, I haven’t seen the quintessential guy Ritchie movies like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, or RocknRolla (those will likely be future entries on this series), but I’ve seen some of his more recent stuff, from which I can understand his style quite well. The Sherlock Holmes movies, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and certainly The Gentlemen each have a kinetic action style that is at the very least entertaining. I’ll admit I got a little lost in The Gentlemen’s story, but I had a lot of fun watching it with its humor and action.
And this is what I surprisingly got with this King Arthur movie. I was expecting this to be a fairly generic action movie with a bland plot — only half of that turned out to be true. This movie does have a bland plot, but the action and, again, kinetic nature of the movie is just so fun to watch. Ritchie infuses his signature humor into the highly stylized action (though this is far from the funniest movie about King Arthur. That title obviously goes to Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Rumor has it that Zack Snyder is currently developing a King Arthur movie, and I expect that would just look like Ritchie’s but just a bit more violent and indulgent.
Ritchie goes heavy on the style in this version of the legendary figure. There is slow motion, wild camera movements, and montages aplenty here. The slow-mo is awesome to look at and the camera movements enhance the action sequences and make them stand apart from what we typically get from huge action movies like this, but the montages are what really drag the movie down.
This film’s biggest problem is that it devotes about 75% too little energy to the story. It’s a plot-heavy movie where they needed to set up all of the mythos of King Arthur while still telling a story in and of itself. Ritchie tries to kick off the story largely through his montages and cutting between two different time periods with voiceover to connect it all, but that just makes it feel disjointed instead. Case in point, the title of the movie makes a reference to King Arthur’s legendary sword, Excalibur, but the opening sequence doesn’t do a good job of letting us know which sword is Excalibur, which in turn takes the weight away from the moment Arthur is finally going to try to pull it out of the stone.
The rest of the movie’s important moments mirror this feeling. We’re aware that something significant is about to happen, but we’re feeling nothing because no legwork is done to give the moment the weight it deserves. This also causes Arthur’s whole character arc to feel extremely clichéd. It’s nothing more than the same story of someone trying to live up to their past and accepting their destiny that we’ve seen a thousand times before. This doesn’t mean the movie is all bad and terrible. It just means it’s not nearly what it could be.
I do give this movie props for being as good as it is. Going in, I was worried that watching this movie may be a waste of my time and at least that wasn’t the case. Five different people have writing credits on it and it was positioned to be a massive blockbuster from a major studio (Warner Bros. — and it was ultimately a humongous flop, which lost Warners and Village Roadshow Pictures north of $150 million), which makes it a difficult project to work on from the jump. But noted auteur Guy Ritchie creates a feeling that’s truly epic where you always can tell what is happening, even if you’re not completely sure why it’s happening.