KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD
Guy Ritchie is a British director who emerged in the 1990s specialising in crime films with the likes of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch. (2000), Revolver (2005) and RocknRolla (2008), which usually feature an ensemble of tough-talking characters in an East End London criminal underworld setting. Ritchies filmmaking was eclipsed for a few years by a high-profile marriage to Madonna and one disastrous film outing together, the widely ridiculed Swept Away (2002). Ritchie of the late 2000s is a filmmaker who seems to work with one eye towards Hollywood with works based on other properties like Sherlock Holmes (2009) and its sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, the big screen remake of the 1960s spy tv series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. In all cases with these, fans of the original were a little taken aback by the liberties Ritchie saw fit to take with the source material. He has next been announced as director of a live-action version of Disneys Aladdin (1992).
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is the first time that Guy Ritchie has ventured into the fantastic genre. Well, Sherlock Holmes did feature a dark sorcerer but opted for a mundane resolution, while The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is based on an original property that used to regularly feature science-fictional elements only for Ritchie to throw them all out when it came to the film. So Ritchie essentially comes to King Arthur as a novice to full-flown fantastic cinema. That perhaps explains why the film is such an awkward beast. What Ritchie essentially serves up as a King Arthur film retooled as a Michael Bay film. This is immediately apparent from the opening scenes where the assault on Camelot occurs with battle elephants about the size of Godzilla storming the castle, troops spilling out of command hutches on the elephants backs, amid the tossing of magic fireballs, and rival armies clashing atop collapsing aqueducts. The rest of the film stumbles through a series of overblown action sequences interspersed with occasional bits of the Arthurian legends whenever Ritchie remembers to get back to them. Keeping in mind that Ritchie is a novice to the fantasy genre and CGI spectacle, he is not the same dab hand with visual effects that Bay is. Thus many of the sequences just seem unconvincing eye candy that never remind you they are anything less than obviously CGI. Not to mention that they often just seems effects for their own sake Charlie Hunnam is assigned to go into the Dark Lands, which simply becomes about him being encountering a random assortment of creature effects, and for no real reason I am able to ascertain a giant snake bursts through a window after Jude Law at one point.
Ritchie plays free and easy with the Arthurian legends. Morgana has been entirely written out, although we do have a Mordred but there is no suggestion he is Arthurs bastard son, which would have been kind of impossible given that he is a full-grown nemesis and killed when Arthur is only a boy and has been retooled as a general all-purpose dark warlord. There is also no Guinevere indeed, in Ritchies mans man universe, the women are shuffled off to the sidelines although in a novel touch, we get an Arthur who has been raised in a brothel. One of the more creative changes is that the stone that the sword is drawn from is actually Uther Pendragons petrified body after Uther, knowing he was about to die, tossed Excalibur into the air and impaled himself. The main bad guy of the show is Vortigern played by Jude Law. Vortigern is a purportedly historical king who maybe lived in the 5th Century and exists in the same legendary, historically unverified state as the existence of Arthur some accounts insert Vortigern into the Arthurian legends but he has never been anything other than a guest star in one or two stories and certainly has never been written in as Uther Pendragons brother.
What we have feels less like a film about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table than it does the Arthurian legends refitted as some strange bastard child of a Michael Bay and a Guy Ritchie film. Ritchie is entirely disinterested in the romance of the cycle women rarely feature in speaking roles in the film and about the same when it comes to the chivalry of the cycle, which mostly shuffled off a scene at the end with the gang being knighted amid jokes about what the purpose of the Round Table is. Mostly what Ritchie seems to want to do is give us one of his typical Mens Men films focused around tough guys and their tough talk and almost homoerotic scenes of pugilism in which he reconceives the Knights of the Round Table in terms of one of his crime films as a group of diverse criminals with quirkily distinctive personalities all coming together to conduct a caper. Indeed, the first scene where we meet the adult Arthur is one in which he narrates a typically Ritchie-esque flashback explaining how he took owed money from the Viking leader, which is directed with fast kinetic cuts and equally fast, urgent talking as the scheme is explained in lots of colluqialiese. Later in the film there is another caper plot where the group come together to conduct an assassination attempt on Vortigern.
Other versions of the legend of King Arthur are: a Three Stooges spoof Squareheads of the Round Table (1948); the Cinemascope historical adventure, Knights of the Round Table (1954); the live-action tv series The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1956-7); Cornel Wildes Lancelot and Guinevere (1963); the Disney animated version with cute animals, The Sword in the Stone (1963); the comic cartoon series Arthur and the Square Knights of the Round Table (1966); the big budget musical, Camelot (1967); Robert Bressons deconstructed Lancelot du Lac (1974); King Arthur, The Young Warlord (1975); the absurdist comedy send-up, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975); the arthouse Perceval Le Gallois (1977); the tv series The Legend of King Arthur (1979); the German tv series Merlin (1980); the dreary TV mini-series Arthur the King/Merlin and the Sword (1981); the superb Excalibur (1981), the finest screen version of the Arthurian story to date; the Wagnerian opera Parsifal (1982); the tv series Merlin of the Crystal Cave (1991); the animated tv series King Arthur and the Knights of Justice (1992-3); a modern updating, October the 32nd/Merlin (1992); Arthurs Departure (1994) about time travellers attempting to snatch King Arthur; First Knight (1995), which retells the story as a non-fantastical romance; Kids of the Round Table (1995), a childrens version that retells it in schoolyard terms; Lancelot, Guardian of Time (1997) with a time-travelling Lancelot; the tv mini-series Merlin (1998) and its original sequel Merlins Apprentice (2006); the tv movie Merlin (1998) with Jason Connery as the young wizard; the animated Quest for Camelot (1998), which concerned the daughter of one of the Knights of the Round Table; The Excalibur Kid (1999) in which a child is transported back in time to Arthurs court; Merlin: The Return (1999) in which Arthur and the knights are revived in the present; the tv mini-series The Mists of Avalon (2001), which tells the story from the perspective of the women; the historical spectacular King Arthur (2004); The Last Legion (2007), an historical spectacular that acts as a prequel to the Arthurian saga; the tv series Merlin/The Adventures of Merlin (2008-12); the tv series Camelot (2011); and The Asylums mockbuster King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (2017), which places the Knight of the Round Table in the present-day. Other variants include the lowbrow comedy foil of Mark Twains A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court (1889), filmed variously in 1921, 1931, 1949, 1979 and 1989. Parts of the myth have turned up in various films and particularly tv series Merlin (played by Ringo Starr) as an advisor to various Famous Monsters in Son of Dracula (1974); The Round Table turned up in an episode of Robin of Sherwood (1983-6); Merlin and Lancelot appeared in the present day in an episode of The Twilight Zone (1985-7); the Doctor Who (1963-9) episode Battlefield (1989) attempted a science-fictional retelling; and various series have played the myth out in various futuristic settings against a post-holocaust dictatorship in Knights of God (1987) and as a puppet space opera in Space Knights (1989).