I saw this movie last night. I woke up with the sort of hangover you have after a crazy rager the night before – “Did that really happen?” Guy Ritchie has realized one of his long-awaited passion projects – a King Arthur film – and has made one of the nuttiest, nonsensical and fun times I’ll have at the theater this year. This film doesn’t really give a shit about canon and lore, and it’s all the better for it. It’s like every time the corporate assistant went “Wait, what about x factor in Arthur lore?” Guy Ritchie just responded with “Yeah, yeah, yeah – just shut up.” Even when it does go into the familiar territory of ladies in lakes and excalibur it does so in the most bonkers manner it can. If you’re going to make a King Arthur film, why do the story that’s been told a thousand times? Why not make it the most unique thing you can?
This movie starts with miles-high-tall elephants wreaking havoc on a kingdom. That’s where it begins. It goes straight to the hard stuff, opting to snort cocaine off the rip rather than build up to it. And guess what? Those elephants aren’t even the 15th most insane thing in this film! There’s alternate realms, giant snakes, for some reason Arthur trips snake venom on the way to the final act – There’s a character named Kung Fu George. KUNG FU GEORGE!
Charlie Hunnam’s having a good year. Just a week ago I watched him in The Lost City of Z, possibly the role of his life. You know he’s at a good point in his career when the time has come for him to have a role just so he can ripped and shirtless. That’s a good career marker to hit. I’m not certain he’s best suited for Hollywood fare like this yet, but he is a nice match for Ritchie. Hunnam adapts ably to Ritchie’s sarcastic quasi-street gangster sensibilities in his dialogue, his manic sense of pace and storytelling. At least when Hunnam signs on for the big films, he does it with directors that want to make the most ambitious film they can with the material – Ritchie and Guillermo del Toro.
Vortigern is a pretty standard villain, just kind of evil for evil’s sake, but good lord does Jude Law make it a time. He makes every scene he’s in a joy with how much he hams it up. He knows his character is nothing new, and just hams and sleazes it up gleefully. At one point he cuts off a guy’s ear that he’s interrogating and repeats a question into the ear. If that does nothing for you, I don’t know what to tell you.
Daniel Pemberton is really developing into a terrific composer. He had a delight of a score for The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and delivers more memorable work here. His King Arthur score matches the nutty intensity of Ritchie’s aesthetic, drawing on classic medieval instrumentation for an epic, thrumming work.
Guy Ritchie has been doing a tour of studio films for the past decade, and has still managed to retain his sense of self in these mammoth undertakings. His best work of them is still The Man from U.N.C.L.E., one of the greatest and underrated joys of recent memory. But King Arthur isn’t that far behind. This is Guy Ritchie’s biggest, most spectacle filled film to date. You can say it has the problems most movies of this scale do – cardboard cutout villains, lack of motivation for the main character, just a general sense of crumbling under its own weight – but good lord does it ever do those things with as much style as Ritchie can muster. There’s never a dull moment in this thing, even when there should be because Ritchie is so determined to make the most bonkers, nutty film he can. It works far more than it doesn’t work. It’s highs are exhilarating, it’s lows still satisfying. My friend remarked as we were walking out of the theater that even though this was a King Arthur movie, one of the most retold stories of all, it might have been one of the most original films we’d see this year. He wasn’t wrong.