Friday, September 15, 2017
"King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" (2017)
In fact, I've realized that I'm becoming a Guy Ritchie fan. You probably already know how much I adore The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), and I would like to see his two Sherlock Holmes movies again. I also can't wait to see what he does with Aladdin (2019?). He doesn't play things safe with his direction, always trying new ways to tell stories or show us things, and while I don't always like what he does (the "shoulder-cam" thing in King Arthur is just doofy, I'm sorry), I have to give him props for inventiveness. He has this cool way of telling a story in circles, giving us the bare bones of an event and then filling in details later in a way that changes our perception of those events.
Cowboy says he thinks this is a good movie if you ignore the fact that it's supposed to be telling the story of King Arthur and just look at it as a cool story of some dude named Arthur becoming king. And I guess that works too. But one of the things I like best about it is the way it takes familiar bits of the Arthur legend and makes them fresh and new. I mean, the world already has The Sword and the Stone (1963) if I want a super-traditional telling, Camelot (1967) if I want a musical version, and King Arthur (2004) if I want one that includes Ioan Gruffudd (because of course I do). So why not a swaggery retelling with oddball music and lots of new ideas for things like how that sword got in that stone?
Because that's what we have here. Lots of swagger. Some very odd music, and some cool music -- I've been listening to the soundtrack on YouTube, and yeah, it's odd. But I will give the composer, Daniel Pemberton, the same props I give Guy Ritchie here. He is trying new things, he's not just writing generic placeholder music that could be swapped out with any other actiony movie. I love his soundtrack for Man from UNCLE, and even though this one doesn't hit me at the same level, I still like listening to (most of) it just because it's so different.
Okay, so basically, Vortigen (Jude Law) kills his brother, King Uther (Eric Bana), and takes over the throne, but fails to kill little Prince Arthur. Little Arthur escapes and grows up in Londinium, in a house of ill repute. He grows up scrappy and loyal and sarcastic and lonely (so, duh, of course I like him). When he's all grown up (and now played by Charlie Hunnam), the sword in the stone comes to light. Vortigen knows this was his brother's sword that won't answer to anyone but the rightful heir to the throne, so he sets about systematically searching for that heir.
Arthur's very bold and ambitious, but he doesn't know he's the rightful king. He has these nightmares about the night his father died, but he doesn't know what they mean. Yet. Thanks to a powerful mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), he begins to understand his dreams, his past, and what his future could hold. Also, there's a bunch of rebels who want Vortigen gone. And these angry Viking dudes. Plus, Vortigen gets power from these super creepy serpent-women-octopus-things. Like I said, there's a LOT going on in the movie, and I'm not even sure how to coherently review it.
So I guess I won't try. If you're interested in a movie about King Arthur with a lot of magic and some cool storytelling twists, not to mention nice scenery and pretty people, give it a try. If you're not, don't.
My favorite scene both times I watched this was the approach to the big finale, when a hallucinating Arthur rides toward his uncle's castle, unarmed and alone. (This song is playing in the background, and it's so wacky and off-kilter and perfect for the scene.)
(He's hallucinating because the mage had a snake bite him, and I haven't entirely figured out why yet.)
It's a cool montage sequence, and it's pretty. Did I mention this movie is very pretty? Just like Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a beautiful movie to look at, though this one involves more CGI.
And Ritchie uses some great, unusual camera angles and staging that keeps everything so interesting, visually. Like this shot of Arthur confronting Vortigen after the ride to the castle:
Isn't that a feast? The opulence of the castle, the solid bulk of Arthur and the two guards bringing him in, the tiny focal point of Vortigen framed by Arthur and a guard. It's like Vortigen is a prisoner too here, and in a way he is -- captive to his own ambition. Also, Arthur towers over him, shadowy and unknowable. We spend most of the movie with Arthur, but he remains apart, a bit unknowable. Whereas Vortigen... he gets fewer scenes, but we know so much about him from them.
My other favorite scene is when Arthur pulls the sword from the stone.
Can you feel the tension, his reluctance to touch this, his confusion? And the dreary greys of his surroundings, with him the only bright spot -- mmm, I am in love with the cinematography, for sure.
I've wanted to see Charlie Hunnam in something ever since I read this article a few years ago about how his TV show Sons of Anarchy was basically a retelling of Hamlet. Really, I want to see him play Hamlet himself, but this was a fun introduction to him, anyway. (Plus, he was playing opposite the only person I've seen play Hamlet live, so that was cool.)
EDIT: I forgot to say if this was family friendly or not. Um, sorta? It's got loads of violence, but none of it is bloody or gory, it's just smash-bash-crash-move along. It does have a lot of magic stuff going on, so that's not for everyone. No sex, but he does grow up in a brothel, so there's some implications of what the girls he protects do for a living. Does have some bad language, including that one non-sexual F-bomb allowed by the PG-13 rating. Not a movie for kids, but I'll let my kids see this when they're teens (with my finger on the mute button). Would be great with something like ClearPlay to take out the language.