I sat down with my wife this past weekend for a good old popcorn movie night, and we charged up “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”. I don’t usually offer write-ups of big blockbusters, but it’s been a few days and this movie is still giving me complicated feels. As such, I’m going to try and hammer down a few of them on the keyboard.

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The main talking point about this movie in the press has been its box office performance; with a budget of 175 million dollars, it only managed to scrape together 39 million domestic, adding another 107 million foreign, and lost nearly 30 million dollars for Warner Bros.

Those numbers make John Carter look like a smash hit.

Doubling down on that, the critics hated King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. It’s at 28% on Rotten Tomatoes, as critics were pretty savage in tearing it down.

No one liked it, no one went to see it, and it came and went this summer without much hoopla.

But I think I liked it, and I don’t really know why.

It stars Charlie Hunnam from “Sons of Anarchy” as King Arthur and Jude Law as the villainous Vortigern. The supporting cast includes Aiden “Littlefinger” Gillen, Djimon Hounsou, and Eric Bana. The casting is fine, though I can imagine studio executives all promising to never pour so much money into a film helmed by a cable TV star ever again.

It was directed by Guy Ritchie.

And this is where the movie, the box office, the critical response and my feelings all go sideways. “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is absolutely a Guy Ritchie movie. Above and beyond any other plot, theme, genre or experiment.

Nothing else that can be said about this movie can eclipse that fact. It’s not even fair to say that Ritchie’s fingerprints are all over it, as it seems as if he’s grabbed hold of the whole project like it was a wad of playdoh and just squeezed and squeezed until it squished through his fingers, leaving a gooey mould of his grasp behind.

Imagine if “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”, “Snatch” or even “RocknRolla” were remade to include Excalibur. Hunnam’s Arthur could fit right in with Eddy, Turkish, and One-Two effortlessly with his plotting, scheming and cons.

The thing is, Ritchie has already moved past those smarmy underworld con-game movies with his Sherlock Holmes and even the under-appreciated “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” spy-hommage. King Arthur as a wise-cracking streetwise hustler is really strange, it’s really unexpected. Even the trailer doesn’t quite prepare the audience for this take on the true-born king. It is really quite odd.

So what the hell happened?

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Ritchie says in an interview with UPROXX:


So, yeah, but what I wanted to capture was the essence. So, the story, for me, has both an esoteric aspect and more conventional aspect. And if you can marry those two successfully, then you succeeded. So I like the idea that it’s a story about a man’s inner struggles with himself, and he starts off completely dependent and then ends up being completely independent.

There is a terrible danger, particularly in the Arthurian legend, of getting bogged down into too many famous characters – and we were liberated from that by just going ‘this is about a kid retaking his throne and he’s got to pull a sword out of a stone in the interim’. I mean, congestion is a big problem in narrative, right? And so, wherever you find congestion, find an efficient way of getting through it. So it just didn’t lend itself to time for a bit of romance. We were dealing with a bit of bromance here and there. But yeah, I think we’ll leave the romance to a latter, another incarnation.


But the movie is bogged down by narrative. There are all these characters introduced that muck up the screen, and Arthur spends most of the time playing Robin Hood rather than conquering England. They spend time with his streetrat friends, but don’t bother introducing Merlin, Lancelot or Guinevere. Mordred attacks King Uther at the start of the film, and Morgan le Fay is a non-entity as well.

Don’t forget that this movie clocks in at over 2 hours in length, so the idea that there isn’t time for these iconic characters is a strange one to justify.

Now, here’s the twist; I agree that this movie is a failure of a King Arthur movie, but it is a wonderfully weird and fun Guy Ritchie caper movie.

Once I was able to turn my expectations over, I realized that this isn’t a movie about a born-king rising to the occasion, freeing the sword from the stone and conquering a fractured nation. This was instead a movie about a street-wise grifter and his colourful gang of friends looking to stick it to the man, who then get in over their heads due to events beyond their control before beating the odds and coming out on top.

With magic swords.

Once I parsed it that way, I was on board. The movie made sense, and it was a fun silly romp that was half-action, half-parody, cruising by on the strength of some witty banter and some sly grifting. It became good.

Sort of the way you can look at a horror movie, and while knowing that it is not a finely crafted piece of cinema, but still appreciate it for succeeding in what it attempts to do, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” works when put in the right context.

The actors are all “cool”, they have “street smarts” and “guts”. It is all completely Guy Ritchie©™.

So I’m left tossing around the thoughts in my head:

    1. “Can a movie that failed in its premise but succeeded in finding an identity be good?”

“Can a movie be accidentally good?”

“When a movie fails at everything it sets out to do, can it still be good?”

I don’t know.

I do know, however, that Aiden Gillen looks suspicious no matter what role he’s playing. Even if he’s a noble knight, I can’t shake the idea that he’s not one step away from pushing someone out the moon door.

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