Make: Warner Bros./Ritchie Productions
Model: Medieval Fantasy
With the recent misfortunes of Robin Hood, it’s time to pull another Ritchie misfire into the shop. Ritchie’s fast-paced and modern stylings give all of his movies a flare and charm, but he often sacrifices story for style, choosing cool over character. This was the case with King Arthur. While the core of the story is simple enough (Arthur must claim Excalibur and avenge his father), the style gets in the way. There are giant snakes and other mystical elements that jumble the story and serve no real purpose otherwise.
What works: Concept. Like I said, it’s a simple tale. Arthur is the son of a dead king. His traitor uncle sits on the throne. He has to claim Excalibur and use its power to avenge his father.
Casting. Charlie Hunnam is great as a rough and tumble Arthur raised in a brothel. Jude Law is better as the Machiavellian Vortigern willing to sacrifice his wife and daughter to obtain and keep his ill-gotten power. Every other character is one dimensional, mage, soldier, and baddie.
But that’s okay. It’s Arthur’s story. He is the only character whose development matters. The real issue lies in how that development is told.
Bullet-time Swashbuckling. When Arthur finally gets a hold of Excalibur, he enters bullet-time reminiscent of Link’s sword skills in Breath of the Wild.
It’s the coolest effect in the whole movie. But it doesn’t have a proper foundation. He should have seen the ability before he used it the first time in battle.
What doesn’t work: Mystical Dream Sequence. There is a weird sequence. Arthur goes to the “Darklands,” a sort of medieval dream world, where Arthur hikes through a shadowy wilderness, only to end up having another vision of the death of his father. During the Inception sequence, Arthur encounters giant snakes.
There is no indication that any of this dream sequence is real, including the giant snakes. And yet, like Gandalf’s eagles, they show up to eat the baddies. Neat.
Also, where does the final battle take place? Dreamland? All indications say yes.
Pace. Guy Ritchie has a cool way of doing flashbacks where he cuts from scene to scene quickly. He used it effectively in Sherlock Holmes, and at times in Arthur. But he relies on it too much for exposition, resulting in confusion.
First, the Darklands sequence cannot leak into the real world. Giant dream snakes must stay dreams. Instead, Arthur needs to get his first taste of bullet-time in the Darklands, holding Excalibur. It allows for a slower development, and a useful, non-DXM solution to the problem.
DXM = Deus Ex Machina
As soon as Arthur is out of the Darklands, the mage needs to go right back into them and face some trials of her own. She needs training from the true master of the Darklands, Merlin. She becomes the last-minute solution, not the snakes.
When Arthur at last surrenders to Vortigern, and is about to be killed, the mage appears. She uses her animal powers and summons normal animals, not giant ones. Regular vipers attack the men, brought in with falcons and dropped onto the baddies. The mage hands Arthur Excalibur, and he summons bullet-time and kills waves of enemies.
The final battle against Vortigern does not take place in Dreamland, but in the actual real tower. Vortigern assumes his demon form, which also has bullet-time equipped. They battle with onlookers present. The tower begins to collapse from the stress. It implodes on Vortigern, opening a hole under the floor. Arthur and Vortigern fall to the water under the castle where the Ursulas are hanging out. The rocks crush 2 out of the three, but the third one escapes. Arthur gets to his feet and sees Vortigern lying on the dock where he killed his wife and daughter. Arthur stabs him there, unaware of the irony. He takes the crown with him and finds his knights, having rescued the kingdom.
Truth be told, I enjoyed this movie for the most part. The giant snakes came out of nowhere, and the Inception bits are incomprehensible. There’s a lot good here. With a couple tweaks, it could be a more watchable experience, and hopefully turn a profit. Otherwise, Ritchie’s on track to lose a lot of money updating British legends.