In a studio climate where most of the output is polished and pressed for inoffensive and familiar, King Arthur feels like, at times, a breath of fresh air. I say, “at times” because much of the film is still mired in studio meddling and warring with its director, Guy Ritchie, whose knack for blue collar, cockney cool finds its way into a high-fantasy tale that seemingly has no room for it. The story is, more or less, the standard Legend of King Arthur, with giant mind-controlled evil elephants, massive snakes, kraken sex-gods, and demonic Jude Law thrown in for good measure.
Given the fantastical ridiculousness listed above, it’s no surprise that King Arthur ultimately ends up feeling like Guy Ritchie by way of Zach Snyder, with the studio ostensibly squeezing the latter director’s penchant for green screen, slow-mo CGI-bombs on top of the movie it appears Ritchie was more interested in making. Immediately following the opening credits Ritchie treats us to one of the effortlessly cool montage sequences he’s mastered, chronicling little Arthur’s journey as a child growing up roughing it on the streets to the blue collar, Robin Hood crime boss as an adult. These Ritchie flourishes seem compressed within an inch of their life, but nevertheless, Lord of the Rings by way of Gods of Egypt by way of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels far surpasses the typical fantasy dreck churned out of the big studios these days. On top of it all, Daniel Pemberton (who scored the wildly underrated Man from U.N.C.L.E.) scores the film with even more cockney flair, while eschewing the music that typically accompanies swords and spells.
King Arthur rides on these Ritchie-Pemberton scenes, and in its messier, more bloated moments, it is carried by its lead’s brash charisma – Charlie Hunnam’s brash swagger seems perfect for Guy Ritchie’s aesthetic and tone, and I hope the two work together again soon. Hunnam’s proving himself a capable lead, and Jude Law is clearly having a blast as the evil uncle, sacrificing loved ones to a kraken sex-god beneath the castle to obtain power. Far less than a masterpiece, but far more than some early reviews would have you believe. Consider me a Guy Ritchie apologist, I just wish there was more of his stamp on this film that is ostensibly his.