So right off the bat, if you are thinking of going to see King Arthur go read Sonny Bunch’s review. It’s one of those rare thumbs down reviews that absolutely sold me on the movie. It’s not a good movie. It’s not a guilty pleasure.
I liked it. It’s definitely not “so bad it’s good” rather it has some drawback that make it “not for everyone” and if the box office opening weekend is any indication, everyone seems to agree.
It’s like Hot Topic! It’s got style! (but probably the wrong kind)
Keep in mind that I also like Battleship. Certainly it’s playing at that level but it rises above in action moments that never quite get to Sherlock Holmes’ coherence but the sensibility is there.
Where it falls behind battleship is in the thematics. You can certainly believe Peter Berg’s movies are jingoistic or uncritically nationalist but they at least have a perspective. King Arthur is pure reaction. To its credit, an ambition that never finds it’s footing: the knights of the round table are multi-ethic… well just because! Because people of every race can be poor and really good at fighting??? Why do they even like Arthur? They’re his boys, he is cool and has the coolest most powerful sword. What do we even know about the knights of the round table by the end of this? Their race and the one fighting thing they are good at. That’s it.
The whole film is a lot of unflattering contrasts. A street rat becomes a king. That contrast COULD WORK. What kind of connection is there between the street and the throne? What can you learn among the people? Well, nothing according to the movie. Arthur’s bloodline makes him a really good small businessman (not joking). So heredity management skill and always being right when he makes smarmy predictions is why he should be king. If this sounds like some arbitrary hero’s journey garbage, it is.
An earthy boxer (shot doing physical tasks with his superiorly self trained muscles) gets to wield crazy magic (that makes those muscles and that work ultimately meaningless). Formally speaking, going from foot chases filmed with gopro style on person mounts to a fully CGI video game cut scene finale where Arthur fights this guy:
…it works against itself. The 300 sequel used the more free floating, 3D model orbiting speed ramp camera present here to better effect. With it, they covered a greater distance and went places that would have been physically impossible (across dangerous digital seas and shipwrecks) but in King Arthur’s finale the camera rotates around a fixed point. It’s cool and I like it but it goes faster than any other speed ramp I’ve ever seen. Even in video games.
The strength of the speed ramp is in awe. We are slowing down a moment, making it last forever. The choice to do battle in 300 is as much the point as what comes next, letting that readying moment last forever makes sense from a “cool” as well as pacing and story perspective. King Arthur uses it more as a fast forward for parts of a fight that the cooler more powerful character can skip through easily, that it judges too boring to look at. The mechanic doesn’t make sense in any logical sense as whatever powerset is imputed by the sword really doesn’t show up until this end sequence.
Some of the best kung fu films have plain camera work that show acrobatic symbolic action. They do this by physically training actual people and cheating the hits with exaggerated acting. King Arthur wants to use CG and ramping to show us as much of a “literal” uncheated money shot hit as possible, over and over and over in quick succession. It’s new but I can’t say it works artistically like those old classics.
Some more clashing sensibilities: the streetwise language and the high fantasy mirror universe stuff. Like, how is the subquest in the mirror realm even in the same movie as the shakedown street hustle fur smuggling/prostitute wrangling that came before it.
This is a movie that wants all these tonally grounded modern characters and also a level up mission where the hero fights giant rats and bats. How is the first thing he says when he gets back to his boys not “there’s fucking giant rats in a mirror realm, magic is real and holy fuck we need to ride some bats or something when we get the chance. Do the bad guys have giant bats?”
The movie is too much.