I’m confused to the backlash against this film. What I watched at my preview screening was a fantastical romp comparable to revered man films, 300 and maybe a bit of Braveheart… basically all the epics which feature lots of men chest pumped, teeth bared, sword in hand, battling to death defending some legend, family crest or woman’s honour. Combined with the cockiness of Ritchies cult classic Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and the Fast and Furious films.
There’s nothing outlandishly wrong with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword to the extent critics are ripping into it. Guy Ritchie has made a brilliant film. He picked well in Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) as the hero, and Jude Law who gives us a great power hungry disgruntled villain.
We start out during an epic battle. We see King Arthur senior (Eric Bana) and Vortigern (Law) on the same side, battling some evil lord and his devilish giant elephants set on destroying the Kingdom. Arthur is victorious. Vortigern is jealous so makes a pact with evil to get rid of his ‘brother’ Arthur and take over as King. In the process, King Arthur’s son and heir Arthur jnr. is hidden in a boat and ends up across the water in another part of the kingdom, to be raised by a prostitute living in a brothel and trained in fighting by a karate master inexplicably named George (Tom Wu). Arthur Jnr, obviously grows up to be a petty criminal and cheeky jack-the-lad, with a running crew consisting of his mates Back Lack (Neil Maskell) and Wet Stick played by British Blacktor, Kingsley Ben-Adir.
Ritchie sets up the story and keeps us informed with flashbacks where the characters recant in ‘real time’ what’s happening, what’s happened, and what will potentially happen. It’s a clever move because usually in films like this with so much going on it’s often difficult to keep track of what the point of the actual story is. This most reminded me of what I loved so much about Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Also, Ritchie did away with all the forthwith and my liege posh talk… again, thankful for that.
Hi-jinx and all sorts abound until Arthur Jnr. runs afoul of the wrong people and catches the attention of the fake king Vortigern, who in a quest to maintain his ever-growing evil power is hunting through the men of the land searching for the missing son of the original king. Why? Because out of nowhere the original king’s sword Excalibur has appeared stuck in a stone and no one can pull it out. Vortigern knows of the legend that whoever pulls out Excalibur, will reclaim their position as rightful King… which he doesn’t want of course. The story is straight forward, and doesn’t stray far from the legend as we all know it. Arthur Jnr does pull out the sword, which does piss off Vortigern, it does set everyone for the inevitable battle, which we all know Arthur Jnr. will win. No spoilers here.
Everyone plays their characters well. Going back to Hunnam, reviews have said he’s a terrible leading man. Nope. Not true, confusing English accent aside he does very good as the reluctant hero Arthur Jnr. His journey of discovery isn’t as annoying as some of these ‘oh I don’t want to be a hero but we all know I’m going to say yes and become the hero anyway so let’s waste time with overly long scenes of me moping around being a moody git’ type of films. Ritchie keeps Arthur Jnr on the right side of reluctance. It’s more honest. Again don’t get why Hunnam can’t lead a feature, he handled Sons of Anarchy extremely well. His poor film catalogue may be down to directors and crappy scripts…
Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones’ Little Finger) does a welcome and comfortable turn as Bill, comrade and soldier for the original King Arthur who along with Dijmon Hounsou’s (Blood Diamond, 2006; Beauty Shop 2005) Bevidere and The Mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) are tasked with convincing Arthur Jnr to stop fighting destiny and the powerful connection he has with Excalibur.
Hounsou’s Bevidere is boss of the Resistance. Could he have a bit more agency and leadership? Yes. Even though he’s the boss he’s not really boss like, but being one of the three black characters in a period feature where historically black characters aren’t given prominence, means he’ll be under extra scrutiny. Personally, I welcome Hounsou being placed in roles which don’t have him cast as a booga-booga African jungle warrior (see 2016’s Legend of Tarzan film – or actually don’t) … so I was okay with him in this film. If I’m even more gracious, he’s sharing screen time with Gillen who’s a better-known face to the mainstream along with Hunnam as the lead. Regarding positioning alone, this should improve Hounsou’s casting options. He’s a competent actor, and being African with an accent shouldn’t be his Achilles heel.
My guest overheard at the screening, a young white lady who was incensed that the two black characters were in “stereotypical roles”. SIGH. This is when white folks misunderstand what being an ally means. I’ve discussed Hounsou’s Bevidere. Kingsley Ben-Adir’s Wet Stick gets fair screen time and lines in comparison to Arthur Jnr’s other white best friend Back Lack. Sidekicks are usually there to establish the lead, Wet Stick could easily have been any other race, but Ben-Adir got the role… no complaints here.
The irked white young lady also overlooked that there were three black characters and if she wanted to get arsey she could have mentioned that British Blacktress Georgina Campbell was one of the prostitutes who worked in the brothel Arthur Jnr grew up in. But, even then, Ritchie didn’t go all Games of Thronesey by showing lots of gratuitous tits and vage shots either. The prostitutes looked far from, and Ms. Campbell was the only one who got to deliver a line. So again contextually, Ritchie bucked the trend and cast diversely in a period feature. Gave ’em some decent lines too. Ritchie gave us the brilliant Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood) in Lock Stock, then effed it all up with his casting of bumbling black criminals in Snatch (2000). Absolutely hated what he did there. Back on track with Idris Elba, Thandie Newton and Ludacris in Rocknrolla (2008) … He’s better than most in my book.
Is there anything to criticise? Erm… a few edits to cut some of the fillery bits. They didn’t show Merlin at all, kinda wanted to see him. Although I celebrated the fact there’s not too much ye olde language spoken, there could be a bit of balance, there are moments when the characters’ banter is a bit too now, which takes you out of the historical reverie… At most, it can come across as a bit too cocky and slick… As for David Beckham’s infamous cameo, he’s perfectly normal, handles his lines well it’s an almost blink and you’ll miss him unless you really care moment. It’s Beckham not frickin’ Anthony Hopkins.
So, as with most of the reviews I’ve read clearly clutching at straws to pan it, I’m clutching at straws to diss it. Comparably to a lot of recent franchise films and blockbusters which have been given a pass, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword sits well up there. When the credits rolled, I was thinking, I hope there’s a sequel. Subsequently I’ve read that if this does well there are 6 more planned! Fingers crossed the critics don’t win.