Guy Ritchie's 'King Arthur' is getting a very bad rap. Here's why the the critics are wrong.
It’s official. “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is a box office debacle.
The film’s opening weekend yielded an anemic $15,371,270. The Guy Ritchie spectacle came in number three behind “Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Snatched,” respectively.
Given “King Arthur’s” production budget — reportedly $175 million before other film-related costs — that’s disastrous.
Other sword and sorcery films have fared far better in recent years:
“The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” (2003) — $72,629,713
“Clash of the Titans” (2010) — $61,235,105
“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” (2016) — $19,445,035
“Warcraft” (2016) — $24,166,110
Rotten Tomatoes-approved critics gave “King Arthur” a 26 percent “rotten” rating. Yet audiences tally in at 80 percent. That’s an insane difference of opinion.
Blame a failure in marketing? Perhaps people didn’t know what to make of it? Maybe the Initial poor reviews scared people away? Or, in an age of “Game of Thrones” “King Arthur” is too positive of a story?
Certainly the film’s marketing proved horrible. It didn’t show enough of what was different in this retelling of the Arthurian legend to draw people in. That’s a shame. It may not be a traditional telling of the Arthurian legend, but it’s an entertaining one.
More on that in a bit…
Over the years Ritchie has made some memorable films. “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” stand near or at the top of that list.
They demonstrated a raw and unique vision. Both were a love letter of sorts to the characters of London. Both of these films were pre-Madonna (I have a friend who believes Madonna is an actual vampire). It remains to be seen if Ritchie can get his pre-Madonna mojo back.
FAST FACT: Guy Ritchie’s first film, “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” earned $143,321 during its opening weekend at the U.S. Box Office back in 1999. It went on to earn $3,753,929 in toto.
The Arthurian legend is a foundation of Western canon up there with the “Iliad” “Beowulf” “The Canterbury Tales” and “Hamlet.” It’s a familiar story, but one that holds something deeply nourishing to our souls. King Arthur explores good and bad kings, fathers and sons, friends and enemies and love and loyalty.
As a kid I revered John Boorman’s “Excalibur” and read everything I could about King Arthur from Arthurian cycle in the “Matter of Britain” to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s, “Mists of Avalon” and T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King.” That included checking out the often overlooked A.A Attanasio’s trilogy to even trying to knock down Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte D’Arthur.”
The legend of King Arthur might at first seem an odd story for Ritchie to take up. It’s actually a very “Rule Britannia” tale when you think about it. His “boys of London” as Camelot is a unique twist and has a lot going for it.
The casting, too, is spot on. Charlie Hunnam (“Sons of Anarchy”) makes for a solid King Arthur. Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as “The Mage” is a very interesting addition to the legend and brings a sort of “You Know Nothing, Jon Snow” energy to their flirting.
Eric Bana, who really should be in more movies, was a surprise Uther Pendragon. Jude Law (who I normally can’t watch) delivers a decent villain as Vortigern, a historical figure that often shows up in modern retellings.
The pace of the film is rapid-fire, and that’s a joy to watch. It’s standard Ritchie fare, with so many different camera angles, quick cuts and the perfect application of light and shadow.
The dialogue is fun and the accents deliver. Think more South London than High English. That makes it seem more like a heist movie than an epic battle between good and evil.
The fight scenes are engaging, and you do feel like there’s real risk in play. The story’s use of magic is unique as well. No spoilers here, because it’s the main element of the film that makes it worth watching.The legend of King Arthur might at first seem an odd story for Ritchie to take up. It's actually a very “Rule Britannia” tale when you think about it. Click To Tweet
So what ultimately went wrong?
We can blame the ending. It failed to pull off a heist, and the first two acts play almost as a heist movie. Or, you could say it failed as sword and sorcery movie to have a climatic end battle.
That it did’t have a spectacular ending when “Game of Thrones” has shown at least a half dozen compelling and intense battle scenes makes the lack of one stand out all the more.
That being said, “King Arthur” deserves a better fate than simply 2017’s biggest box office dud.