It’s been a long while since I did a movie review, and I thought this was a good one to start with. For one thing, I myself am conflicted about how I feel about it. On the one hand, it’s a Guy Ritchie film, so I knew it was going to be good before I ever stepped foot in the theater. On the other, they took the legend behind King Arthur, and stuck it in a blender, and came up with a whole new movie.
But I also knew that going in, because I’d seen an interview with Charlie Hunnam (who plays Arthur) two days before I went to see it.
The question is, did they do a good enough job to make me overlook the treatment of the source material. I may be taking an unpopular opinion, but I think they did…
I actually enjoyed this movie. I think it hits all the points that I look for in a date movie: there was an obvious character arc (albeit it was a little rushed in spots), the music was really intense in a good way, it followed the progression of a hero, and I could have a discussion about it after the film was over.
It meets my criteria for a good date movie… but if I’m really honest, I don’t know if I could call it a good movie.
Rotten tomatoes agrees: only 26% (it was 27% just a few days ago… that does not bode well).
Before we go any further, there will be spoilers beyond this point, so if you haven’t seen it yet, and you want to form your own opinion before we discuss, leave now.
Now, first of all, let’s talk about the historical inaccuracies. I’ve heard that a lot of people couldn’t look past these. For instance, Charlie Hunnam’s outfit. While all the well-to-do characters (Jude Law’s character of the usurper King Vortigren, his daughter, the lords and ladies and soldiers around him) all seemed to be somewhat historically based. Whether it is the appropriate medieval garb or just a nice historic hodgepodge, I couldn’t say; historical costuming isn’t one of my areas of expertise.
What I know for certain is that everything about the King Arthur character seems designed to run against tradition. He’s not the noble, kind, Arthur we’re used to from legends. He’s not looking to be king, or to even be anything truly great. He’s raised on the streets, specifically within a brothel, and his outfits have been chosen to be as close to London Street Rat as you can get in the medieval times.
And for some reason, this has upset a great many people… although all the Charlie Hunnam lovin’ ladies I know think it’s a damn sexy outfit and they wouldn’t have it any other way!
Personally, I think I’ve given up on my idea of the noble rogue as a partner, but as a character, it’s quite nice, and Hunnam’s mild accent is a nice bonus as well.
I personally don’t understand why so many people couldn’t suspend their disbelief about the time period when there are giant animals from a magical realm known as the “Dark Lands,” roaming about in this movie. We open with giant elephants reminiscent of Tolkien’s oliphants from Lord of the Rings, and through out, we have giant bats, rats, snakes, wolves, and who knows what other monstrosities I might have missed!
If you can suspend your disbelief for giant vermin, surely a sexy Street Urchin outfit for the would be King isn’t too far a stretch…
Back to the Arthur character, though, while he isn’t a traditional Arthur, he does have that good heart that we expect, and he does what’s right… even though he runs from his fate for a long while, and even though he’s touted as somewhat of a ruffian from the start of this film.
See, he is the noble rogue in this film.
The concept of the antihero-esque rogue character isn’t new. Look at Han Solo if you don’t believe me. He’s supposed to be simply a rogue, but he turns out to be a hero and a lover, going against character type to some extent. But that concept of a noble rogue, the diamond in the rough, the thief with the heart of gold, whatever you want to call it, seems very appropriate to create a modern twist of the King Arthur story.
It is the King Arthur for Trump’s America.
Hear me out on this one.
We’ve reached a time in our history where we need heroes again. There was a time not so long ago that we’d done away with hero movies, preferring the slice of life type film that showed the plights of normal everyday people.
Think about the 80’s, where every teenager film needed to be something like The Breakfast Club.
Or the 90’s where our heroes had to be normal every day people who were just doing their job. The heroes of Independence Day (which sticks out because we had a remake of it not too long ago… terrible as it was) were simply soldiers doing their job. Will Smith’s, Bill Pullman’s, and Randy Quaid’s characters were all soldiers at various points in their lives, and they went on to defeat the aliens by simply doing what soldiers (pilots, really) do.
But lately, comic book movies have been taking over the box office, and the small screen! People want heroes again! Joseph Campbell once explained that the hero stories of the ancients were what helped to shape the morality of their times. Who/what shapes the morality of our times now? Look at the president we’ve got: the pussy grabber in chief.
We need heroes.
But we’re not ready for all our heroes to be ubermensch, supreme men of unimpeachable honor, like Superman. We need our heroes to still be relatable.
The traditional King Arthur legend follows the Hero’s Progression formula perfectly, with Arthur being a spotless soul. It isn’t until he unwittingly lies with his own family to conceive Mordred (as in some versions), or he is betrayed by Guinevere (in others) that he is undone. He is flawless, and that is what grants him the ability to succeed.
Only truly worthy people can become heroes in the old tales.
But like Thor with his hammer, in this day and age, we need our heroes to prove their worth. They need to fall a little and realize that they, too, are fallible.
This version of Arthur does that. He watches his parents murdered by his uncle and drifts down river in a boat to be raised by prostitutes. He is beaten until he learns to not only defend himself, but to be the best street warrior there is. He is trained in the skills he will need, but by gaining street smarts as opposed to book smarts. He is not trained in the art of knightly combat, but he is still the best…
In this way, he absolutely follows the hero’s journey and he does his best fighting when he’s defending the honor of women… even if those women are mostly whores.
He is a great hodgepodge of stories, this version of Arthur. We get bits of Hamlet as he has to avenge the death of his father, the king, as well as the Moses story when he is floated down river in order to not be murdered as a small child, and a few others I’m sure, though those two stand out the most for me at the moment.
I could go on, but I’ll save that for a discussion… if I manage to get someone to take me out on a date for this one. I’d enjoy a scholarly debate about the merits of this movie.
I do have two big complaints. First, I think Arthur made the turn-around too quickly. He didn’t want any part of this King business. He was out to save his own neck and was a total smart ass, making most of the people who were there to help him not particularly like him. He was the king that they were kind of stuck with that they hoped would be better than Vortigren.
But they also showed how he cared for those whores who raised him. He insulted Vikings, cutting off one of their beards (a grievous insult), all because they beat up one of the girls who he cared for. When Vortigren kills one of the girls, he’d already sealed his fate… before Arthur remembered that this was the same man who’d killed his parents… yet we don’t see Arthur react with the same fervent need for revenge until later. I consider this to be an inconsistency with the character that is almost unforgivable.
The other thing that I have an issue with? I wish it had been marketed better, because there is some hope that they could continue with the story, and honestly, I’d like to see what comes next for this iteration of Arthur, the Once and Future King! We end just as he is beginning the Round Table, and we’ve not seen Guinevere (though I suspect that might be the name of the lady mage who was helping him the whole time, since he seems to fancy her a bit by the end) or Lancelot. A sequel could be nice… if this movie doesn’t completely flop in the long run.