Friday, September 15, 2017

"King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" (2017)

I've seen this twice now, and I haven't quite wrapped my head around it yet, but I think I'm starting to.  Not that it's hard to understand -- the plot is pretty straightforward.  But there is a ton of stuff going on under the surface that I appreciated way more with the second viewing.  And since layered movies are my favorite kind, yeah, I'm basically a fan of this one.

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.


  1. I'm afraid this movie lost my interest twenty minutes in. I tried to stay focused but... Guy Ritchie isn't to my taste, I guess. I probably agree with a friend who enjoyed this who said he should be an indie director, so he can do what he wants without them expecting box office gold.

    My introduction to Charlie Hunnam was in Nicholas Nickleby. I liked him there. :)

    1. Yeah, I'm pretty sure Cowboy will never ask to watch it again. And I can't see either of my parents liking it. My brother, maybe. So definitely not one for everyone.

      Ritchie really should be an indie filmmaker. And if too many of his movie go the way of UNCLE and Arthur, he may end up as one.

      I do want to see Hunnam as Nickleby! I could become a fan.

  2. Ooh, I'll have to watch this! I love Arthurian stories a lot - I looooved BBC's Merlin. And I love Jude Law, even when he's playing bad guys. ;-)

    I bet Jude Law was a fantastic Hamlet!! I just saw Oscar Isaac play Hamlet a few weeks ago and he was OUTSTANDING. (He's also very nice in person, I'm happy to report!)

    1. Claire, yeah, Jude Law is just always a good time, isn't he?

      I AM SO INSANELY ENVIOUS that you got to see Oscar Isaac as Hamlet! My friend and I tried to get tickets to that, but we were too late. I can only imagine the intensity he would bring to the role! (And so cool he's nice in person!)

    2. He was an excellent Hamlet - I was not disappointed. The show ran for nearly four hours and he never seemed to run out of steam! I waited a very, very long time after the show to have him sign my Playbill. Totally worth it! I was grinning for days afterward. And I may have had an Oscar Isaac movie marathon when I got home...

    3. Claire, I believe it! So cool you got him to sign your Playbill :-o

      I've only seen him in three things, actually: The Force Awakens, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Ex Machina. Fantastic in two of them, underused in the other.

  3. I would like to see this movie (mainly because I like Jude Law--lol;). I did like Charlie Hunnam as Nicholas Nickleby, too!

    Overall, I liked your review. It seems like a cool movie, even if there is a bit of content. So, yeah, I may give it a go sometime...maybe as a one-time watch. I do like these types of movies, so long as they're not TOO bloody/gory.

    1. Elanor, Jude Law is one of those actors whose presence always improves a movie. I very much appreciate him.

      It's a weird movie, kinda, but enjoyable. And not very gory.

  4. So...when this movie first came out I didn't have much interest because 1) The previews didn't impress me and 2) it didn't get very good reviews. However, this is the 3rd positive mention of this movie that I've seen in the past two weeks, so now I really want to watch it. (I like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. a lot, and find Guy Ritchie's style appealing in its quirkiness, though perhaps in small doses. :) I too am really curious about how he handles Aladdin!)

    Plus, I've been reading and watching as much King Arthur related stuff as I can this fall. I've always avoided it in the past because even as a child I found the ultimate fall of Arthur and Camelot supremely depressing (and don't even mentioned Lancelot & Guinevere) but I figured it was time to tackle the whole Arthurian genre. So far, I've been enjoying it.

    Also, as far as Charlie Hunnam goes, have you ever seen Pacific Rim? It's one of those love-it-or-hate it movies, but it's personally one of my favorites. And Nicholas Nickleby is a fun movie, too.

    1. Ooh, yes, Pacific Rim!!! Definitely seconding your recommendation, Hayden. I love that movie!

    2. Hayden, that's funny -- my reaction to Pacific Rim was like that! I saw the trailers for it over and over whatever summer it came out, but nothing at all made me want to see it (not even the presence of Idris Elba and Charlie Hunnam). But maybe I should see if the library has it and try it?

      I hope you do get to see this, because I think it will intrigue you.

      (But yes, I can't watch Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes movies back-to-back or I get tired of him. So I understand the need for small doses.)

      No Guinevere or Lancelot involved here, so you're safe from the depressing part!

  5. I probably wouldn't enjoy this, I'm thinking?

    (I, too, am VERY excited for "Aladdin," though!)

    1. Jessica, you... probably would not. I mean, it does have characters you can trust, but a lot you won't too. I don't imagine you digging it.

    2. Jessica Prescott, I may have changed my mind. This story has the visual aesthetic you tend to go for. Next time you're in the mood for a swaggering smash-and-bash sort of movie, I think you might dig it.

  6. I just finished my review on this film! And always being the person holding the unpopular opinion, I loved this movie. I think it was because it was so different and offbeat was why I liked it.

    1. Ivy Miranda, so cool you liked it too! I only know two other people who have seen it, so it's nice to find another fan :-) It's off-beat oddities are definitely part of why I dig it!


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