KING ARTHUR : LEGEND OF THE SWORD (2017)

  • Release Date: 08/05/2017
  • Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Michael McElhatton
  • Director: Guy Ritchie

A Guy Ritchie-esc retelling of the Arthur legend that is overtly stylized but not totally hollow…

King Arthur: Legend of The Sword was supposed to be the first film in a 6-film franchise. The film was made for a budget of 175 million dollars and made 14 million dollars in its opening weekend. Over the next few weeks, it turned out to be one of the biggest flops in the history of Bollywood. Not only did it put a full stop on all the sequels that were being planned, but it also put the acting career of Charlie Hunnam under quite a bit of duress. Guy Ritchie’s next film after it was Aladdin. We all know how that turned out and people started to feel that he might just be losing his trademark artistic genius. Interestingly over the last few years, after the film became available on OTT and the digital medium, many including me went back to it and realized that it might not have been as bad as it felt in its first viewing. Maybe it needed a few more viewings to be taken in completely and enjoyed the way it was supposed to be.

Uther (Eric Bana), the king of Camelot is betrayed and murdered by his younger brother Vortigern (Jude Law). Uther is able to save his infant son and put him on a boat that reaches a brothel in Londinium and Arthur is subsequently raised by the prostitutes who found him ashore. Meanwhile, Vortigern proclaims himself as the king of England and starts ruling with an Iron fist. Arthur grows up to be a self-sufficient and powerful young man who knows his way around people and places. The magical sword Excalibur that was previously used by Uther and was the source of all his mystical powers and was forged to the Pendragon bloodline had gone missing since Uther’s death. Soon it re-appears in London lodged in a stone. Vortigern knows this is the sign of the return of the born king and orders his men to start testing all the people of the kingdom to try and take the sword out of the stone. As luck would have it, Arthur lands in London and is faced with pulling the sword out of the stone. As he puts both his hands on the sword and chugs it out, his true destiny finally reveals itself to him. What happens next forms the crux of the narrative.

I really enjoyed this film on my recent viewings, and I think just a little bit of fine-tuning from Ritchie here and there would have made a major difference to how this film was received. Let us first dwell on some of the best things about the film. The action is sensational. There are no two ways about it. One must agree that the director knows how to shoot and cut action and the way he adds the supernatural elements to the action only makes it that much more interesting to watch. Many have complained that the first action sequences involving Uther and the Mages were unnecessary but to me, this was the sequence that set the mood for the rest of the film and the kind of action that we could expect.

Once Arthur wields the sword, we get some imaginative and very well-choreographed action sequences in different settings including one in which our heroes make their way through a whole town with enemy forces in pursuit. I had a little issue with the animation in the climax where Arthur is shown slicing through many soldiers. The rendering of Arthur reminded me of Neo fighting hundreds of Smiths in Matrix Reloaded. Other than that, the action and the visual effects remained on point. I just loved the rendering of the “Death Dealer” (by Frank Frazetta) that was both menacing and at the same time imaginative to look at. I think the visual effects team hit the right balance between ambiguity and details to bring Frazetta’s painting to life as the primary antagonist of the film.

No matter how much people might be criticizing Charlie Hunnam, but I quite liked his work. His character was too young to remember much of the trauma that he endured as a kid but only has nightmares of it. But other than that, he remains cocky and doesn’t show any signs of frustration or not feeling at home in the brothel with his other friends where they run the show like bosses. He is even shown seizing money from the Vikings on sword’s edge and also shown to have contacts in the King’s police. Hunnam carries this cocky avatar with perfection. As the mood of the film changes after he chances upon the sword, his attitude towards life doesn’t change that much. The only issue for the character remains with the believability of why he would take such risks to understand the working of the Excalibur when he is shown traveling to the dark lands to unlock the potential of the sword. He agrees too to the task easily and achieves his goal even more easily. These portions of his essay could have been thought out better. Hunnam too could have done a better job of the scenes where he is shown losing one of his best friends to the king’s knife. Having said all that, He still does a decent enough job.

The supporting cast of the film is fair enough. Jude Law as the antagonist is fantastic. He looks good and does a great job in any role that one can provide him and Vortigern is no different. After a while, we get used to his ways but that doesn’t spoil the fun of watching him and he does surprise you from time to time. Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as the Mage who helps Arthur on his way to kingship is good, but she isn’t given enough screen time to make an impact. Two characters from Game of Thrones (Aidan Gillen, Michael McElhatton) are used to make some splash but both are strictly passable and nothing more. David Beckham appears in a blink and miss cameo that doesn’t add anything to the film. Djimon Hounsou is as likable as ever.

King Arthur: Legend of The Sword is shot and edited in the trademark Guy Ritchie style, but it wouldn’t be wrong to say that his style is cranked up to a level 100 for this film. While the film looks gorgeous and may just be the best-looking film of the year it released, the editing does make things difficult to follow for people who are not used to Guy Ritchie’s style of storytelling. While two characters are speaking about a chain of events, we see the events unfold in tandem with the discussion. This is something that I am used to from Ritchie (Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and hence wasn’t any problem for me. However, this coupled with the kind of handheld cinematography that the film has may induce motion sickness for many viewers. It is something that was sighted as one of the biggest issues of the film and it is applicable for people who are not used this style of filmmaking. On the contrary, I quite liked this style put to this kind of a story. This might just be a first for a story set in this period to be made in this hyper-speed style.

I Loved the background score of King Arthur: Legend of The Sword. It is a companion piece and never tries to weigh in on what we are being shown. It complements the visuals and the editing style perfectly and elevates the feel of the sequences but never tells us how to feel about it. The fact that it is extremely catchy only adds to its charm.

Overall, King Arthur: Legend of The Sword is not nearly as bad as the critics want you to believe. On the contrary, if one watches the film with an open mind, there is a lot to appreciate and enjoy in this film. It does have a few issues in terms of techniques and storytelling, but the pros easily outweigh the cons. I had a good time with this film, and I believe that will be the case with one and all who can suit their aesthetics to Guy Ritchie’s style of filmmaking.

Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)

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