I Loved King Arthur, Unapologetically
I saw King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Thursday night. Which, judging by the weekend box office numbers makes me one of a very small number of people that have seen it. Based on the critical response, King Arthur was pretty much destined to tank which is bad news for a few reasons. I loved it a lot and now we’ll never get the extended King Arthur universe that I so desperately wanted. The movie currently sits at a putrid 27% on Rotten Tomatoes from the critics, an uninspiring 79% from the audience, and it has been panned by every respectable publication from Roger Ebert to The New York Times—good thing this isn’t a respectable publication. And along with competing with the second week of Guardians and the even more critically loathed Snatched pretty much doomed King Arthur to box office failure. King Arthur isn’t a franchise film or children’s movie which in 2017 already means you’re playing from behind especially on such a blockbuster budget, at budget of $102 million it is not exactly the most expensive movie ever made but it does need to rake in the cash more than most of Guy Ritchie’s other films. The highest grossing film of all time that is neither a franchise film nor a kid’s movie is Inception. Inception is the 58th highest grossing movie ever, it made $825.5 million, and was critically beloved—it was nominated for best picture after all. 2012 and San Andreas are the highest grossing films of all time with a negative rating on Rotten Tomatoes, two pretty horrid disaster films that did terribly domestically and killed it overseas. I’m keeping my fingers crossed but more likely than not this will be yet another unfairly forgotten Guy Ritchie movie that I’ll rewatch a dozen times because “your stupidity must be your one saving grace.”
I love Guy Ritchie, I always have, since Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, since Bullet-Tooth Tony, since he named Ray Liotta Dorothy. But Ritchie has become a joke among movie snobs—of which I definitely count myself one—I’m the only man I know that hates the Fast and Furious series and I’m the only human I know that didn’t like any of the Star Wars movies this decade. My computer background shuffles through pictures of Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa, and Quentin Tarantino so that’s the flavor of asshole you’re dealing with. But I’m also not so dead inside that I haven’t been charmed by the Englishmen. Admittedly Guy Ritchie isn’t Uwe Boll or Michael Bay, there are academics that will admit to loving a Ritchie film—albeit with a few conditions. Matt Zoller Seitz, in his review of King Arthur extols a select few of Ritchie’s films calling them “savory treats in the most stylish boxes Ritchie can devise.” I have in general avoided the reviews of King Arthur, both before and after seeing it. Partly because I knew from the outset that it was going to be looked upon with disdain by the critics but also because I didn’t really care how bad or good this movie was I was going to see it. It looked like an ungodly amount of fun from the previews. But also I will see anything with Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Housou, and Guy Ritchie—the recent rumors of Hunnam as the next Bond has me flush with excitement. There have been a lot of complaints about King Arthur as you would guess, the biggest complaints have been that it is too flashy—chaotic action scene after action scene without a respite for actual storytelling. “Frantic” seems to be everyone’s favorite word to describe this modern retelling of a classic fable. I would not disagree with the facts of that critique; the movie does rush from one action scene to another. Ritchie pauses only long enough to rest briefly in exchanges of witty barbs between his talented cast. I disagree that this is a negative for the film though; there’s not much more narrative downtime in Mad Max: Fury Road than there is in this movie. Mad Max is a much better movie, tells a more complex story and has better performances and visually it looks better—but no one complained about its frantic pacing, because we all decided together that it was a good movie. And the cinematic LSD trip that was George Miller’s collection of action sequences gets labeled “exhilarating” while Rithie’s collection of action sequences is unfairly labeled “frantic.” The other major complaint isn’t really worth addressing: it seems that people are up in arms that Ritchie has bastardized the King Arthur myth. Which… really? We’re being precious about the myth of King Arthur now? Okay.
We’re all too afraid of our own opinions. We’ve become the kid who only partially read the book looking around the class nervously trying to read approval on the other student’s faces. But why? Your opinion can be unpopular, it can be poorly supported, it can even be controversial, what it can’t be is wrong. If you tell me that you think Friends is the best show of all time I will first try not to laugh in your face, because I’m trying to turn a new leaf in my old age. But after I overcome the urge to spit up my tea on your nice white shirt I’ll ask you, why you believe that. And as long as you know why you think something, and the answer isn’t just, “Malcolm Gladwell told me,” then you should certainly feel no shame about it. The Needledrop recently posted a video about this exact phenomenon where his opinion was influencing negatively how people felt about albums they previously liked.
King Arthur is going to get lost in the annals of film without a doubt like John Carter, Gods of Egypt, Pan, The Long Ranger, and Titan A.E. before it, Guy Ritchie’s newest, possibly most venturesome film, will only live in infamy in Wikipedia articles. Which is a shame because a lot of this movie is worth praising. The cast is exemplary, and wields Ritchie’s sharp script with the deft and cheeky touch that it needs. Charlie Hunnam’s performance in particular will come as a shock to those that didn’t see The Lost City of Z but the stand out is Neil Maskell. Maskell of his dynamic performance on Humans absolutely steals the show in King Arthur which in a film with Jude Law, Djimon Housou, Aidan Gillen, and Tom Wu is saying something. While many of the critics seem to have disliked the rapid at times frantic pace of King Arthur the controlled chaos of Ritchie’s films have always been some of my favorite parts of them. Whether it’s zipping back and forth between bank robbers and gypsies or following the charming tale Arthur spins of his encounter with the Vikings it’s an art that Ritchie has mastered well. I completely understand why the casual filmgoer would see the reviews for this movie and choose to save $10. I’ve made the same decision hundreds of times and will make it again hundreds of times I’m sure. What I fear will happen to King Arthur is that there will be people who see it and love because Hunnam is charming and witty and pretty or because David Beckham makes a fantastically pointless cameo in the film or maybe because you just love big fucking snakes and magic swords. And you will leave that movie feeling dumb for having enjoyed it. And I’m here to tell you that you are not alone, we’re in the minority it would seem at least according to the critics—but if we’re wrong we’re wrong together because I loved King Arthur—unapologetically.