Hollywood has a mixed record when it comes to transposing classic works of literature into film. You can count such movies as The Lord of the Rings and the recent The Jungle Book remake among its successes. Unfortunately for lovers of the Arthurian canon such as myself, director Guy Ritchie’s new King Arthur: Legend of the Sword will not be joining them.
King Arthur was reportedly intended to kick off a six-part franchise that would embrace the whole sweep of Arthurian legend, but with the film’s dismal 26% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and paltry $15 million opening weekend (on a $175 million budget), there will likely be some serious soul-searching at the studio about going forward with that ambitious venture.
What went wrong? Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Sherlock Holmes) brought his signature dazzling visual style to the project, but in an otherwise favorable critique, National Review’s Armond White dismissed it as borrowing too heavily from the likes of 300 and The Lord of the Rings; and the fusion of Ritchie’s British crime underworld sensibility with the sword-and-fantasy genre resulted in what less charitable critics are calling an incoherent mess.
But the core problem with King Arthur is, well, King Arthur. I’m willing to forgive a lot in an action-adventure film if it features a protagonist who inspires me to come along on his hero’s journey; on that score, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword surprisingly falls short, and that could be the reason it’s not connecting with audiences.