KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD (2017) – Energetic Adventure by Guy Ritchie Tries to Reinvent King Arthur Legend

0

king_arthur_legend_of_the_sword_poster

KING ARTHUR:  LEGEND OF THE SWORD (2017) is director Guy Ritchie’s attempt to do for King Arthur what he did for Sherlock Holmes, namely reinvent the character as an action movie hero.

He almost succeeds.

KING ARTHUR:  LEGEND OF THE SWORD opens with an exciting pre-credit battle sequence featuring giant mastodons and ear-splitting explosions as we witness young Arthur’s father King Uther (Eric Bana) defend his kingdom from attack, only to see it fall when he is betrayed by his brother Vortigern (Jude Law).  Young Arthur is whisked away to safety, and in an energetic montage, we watch as the boy is raised in a brothel, receives martial arts training, and earns his street-smarts as he becomes a man.

The adult Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is the good guy on the block, hanging out with his friends and protecting local innocents from the occasional bullies.  Doesn’t sound much like the Arthur of legend, does it?  That’s because it’s not.  Eventually, Arthur makes his way to the infamous sword in stone, and when he alone can remove it, everyone and his grandmother, including Vortigern, knows who he is.

Arthur seeks vengeance against Vortigern for the death of his parents, while Vortigern sees Arthur as a threat to his kingdom and seeks to annihilate him.   The battle lines are drawn.  May the best man win.  Of course, there’s little doubt here as to who will emerge the victor.

One of the reasons that Guy Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES movies were so successful was that he had Robert Downey Jr. in the lead role as Sherlock Holmes.  Here, as Arthur, he has Charlie Hunnam.  Now, I’m a big fan of Hunnam from his SONS OF ANARCHY (2008-2014) days, but he plays Arthur as if he’s still playing motorcycle gang member Jax Teller from SONS.  The script doesn’t help his cause as it includes lots of modern-day language and dialogue.  In fact, at times this movie seemed like SONS OF THE ROUND TABLE, and when Arthur was with his buddies, I half expected Hunnam to turn and say “Hey, Ope.  Where’s Clay?”

So, the fact that the Arthur character doesn’t really take hold here isn’t just Hunnam’s fault.  The writers don’t help him.  I like Hunnam, and he gives an energetic performance, but it just never really won me over.  I felt like I was watching a movie about Jax Teller sent back in a time machine to England in the days of King Arthur.

There were parts of KING ARTHUR:  LEGEND OF THE SWORD that I liked, and there were just as many things about it that I didn’t like.

Usually, in a movie like this, it’s the action scenes that I like the least, as generally they are long, lifeless, and dull, but that wasn’t the case here.  I really liked the action sequences in this one, and the credit for that belongs to director Guy Ritchie. The opening battle sequence with the monstrous mastodons hooked me in immediately and made me take notice that perhaps this film was going to be better than expected.

Later battle scenes are just as lively.  Ritchie’s camera gets right in on the action, and there’s lot of innovative camerawork during these scenes.  The fight sequences here are much more energetic than what I usually see in movies like this.

I really enjoyed both of Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES movies, as well as his previous movie, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015) which was panned by critics.  I liked all three of these movies better than KING ARTHUR, mostly because those films had better scripts.  Ritchie’s work as a director is just as good here as those films, if not better.  Visually and in terms of this being a rousing action movie, the film works.

It also features some pretty cool creatures.  I’ve already mentioned the impressive looking mastodons, but there’s also this creepy sexually charged octopus creature which is a mixture of slimy octopus tentacles and naked women that make it one of the more intriguing beasts I’ve seen in a movie since the days of Ray Harryhausen.  There’s also a giant snake, which of the three, is probably the least impressive but still makes for a very cinematic monster sequence.  There were a couple of times where I thought I was watching a Sinbad movie instead of a King Arthur movie.

The film also has a loud, in-your-face music score by Daniel Pemberton that I liked a lot.  It reminded me of the way James Bernard used to score Hammer Films.  You definitely notice the music. Pemberton also scored Ritchie’s THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E, another soundtrack that I really liked.

The screenplay, however, is another matter.  Written by director Ritchie, Joby Harold, and Lionel Wigram, it tries very hard to re-invent both the character and the legend, giving both modern-day dialogue and motivations. Arthur seems more interested in protecting his friends than inheriting a kingdom.

The snappy dialogue didn’t really work for me here, as it just seemed out-of-place. When Robert Downey Jr. spoke with updated dialogue as Sherlock Holmes, he still sounded like Holmes.  Charlie Hunnam doesn’t sound like Arthur at all.  Neither does anyone else in the cast sound like they belong in the age of Camelot.

Jude Law plays the villainous Vortigern as a cold-hearted mean-spirited devil and delivers a performance that works up to a point.  He is too one-dimensional to be all that memorable a villain.  Still, he’s a better villain than we get in all those Marvel superhero movies, and a film like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 2 (2017) would have benefitted from a character like Vortigern, who at least has an agenda.

Astrid Beges-Frisbey plays one of the more intriguing characters in the film, The Mage, a woman who can communicate with animals.  I enjoyed her performance a lot and wish she had been in the film even more.

Djimon Hounsou does a nice job as Bedivere, the man who helps Arthur get his kingdom back, but it’s a rather small role and never takes full advantage of Hounsou’s talents.  Eric Bana briefly adds some class to the proceedings in the opening sequence as the ill-fated King Uther, Arthur’s father.

The rest of the cast all do a pretty good job in various small roles, mostly of Arthur’s friends.  Among these folks, I thought Neil Maskell stood out as a character named Back Lack.  He’s in one of the best scenes in the movie, where Vortigern  holds a knife to his throat to get information from Back Lack’s young son who has to watch his dad get mutilated.

The title, KING ARTHUR:  LEGEND OF THE SWORD, also did little for me.  It’s a mouthful, and it’s not particularly memorable.

The same can be said of the movie as a whole.  Strangely, I was most won over by the action scenes and the monsters in this one.  The story and the characters left me wanting more, so much so that I wish director Guy Ritchie was working with a different script entirely.

Still, I wasn’t expecting much, and it was better than I expected.

It reminded me of an old Ray Harryhausen SINBAD movie, re-imagined as a Netflix TV series, only not quite as good.

 

—END—

 

 

 

Advertisements

Melissa McCarthy Is Hilarious In SPY (2015)

0

MOVIE REVIEW:  SPY (2015)spy poster

By Michael Arruda

 If I laugh a lot during a comedy, that’s usually a good sign, and SPY (2015), the latest comedy starring Melissa McCarthy, made me laugh quite a bit.

In SPY, Melissa McCarthy plays a desk bound CIA agent named Susan Cooper who spends her days speaking into the headset of suave CIA agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law), providing him with intel when he’s in the field, and generally saving his butt on a regular basis.  Of course, since he’s drop dead handsome and she’s overweight and not model-pretty, she’s secretly in love with him, and he pays her no attention.

When Fine is killed in the field by the villainous Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), who reveals to the CIA that she knows the identities of all their agents, it prompts CIA director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) to make the unusual decision of sending in an agent Rayna and her people have no chance of recognizing.  Crocker, of course, selects Susan, who aggressively volunteers for the assignment because she wants to seek revenge for Bradley’s death.

This decision infuriates fellow agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) who wants the assignment for himself, and when he doesn’t get it, he quits and goes rogue, shadowing Susan in the field, constantly reminding her that she’s not good enough to get the job done, and that he’s going to get it done on his own.

Of course, the “job” involves locating a nuclear weapon, which Rayna has somewhere in her possession, and she plans to sell it to the highest terrorist bidder.

So, Susan sets out to save the world, and with the help of her best friend and fellow agent Nancy (Miranda Hart) who at first is on a headset back at headquarters, supplying Susan with valuable information but eventually joins Susan in the field, she spends the rest of the movie trying to infiltrate Rayna’s organization so she can find the bomb before Rayna sells it to terrorists.

The plot of SPY is completely inane, but you don’t see this movie because of its plot.  You see it because of Melissa McCarthy, who happens to be one of the funniest people working in movies today.

McCarthy enjoys a lot of side-splitting moments here in SPY.  She’s funny early on as the shy, super intelligent desk agent who goes unnoticed and without respect.  There’s a hilarious scene where she’s berated by her boss Elaine because she has pink eye.  Later when she’s in the field she shows off her physical comedy skills, and towards the end of the movie, she goes into full-fledged over-the-top Melissa McCarthy mode as Susan becomes a take-charge save-the-world agent who has to rely on every aspect of her being to get the job done.  McCarthy has some of her funniest moments in these latter scenes.

And while McCarthy gets to play off co-stars Jude Law and Jason Statham with amiable results, she doesn’t share quite as much chemistry with them as she did with Sandra Bullock in the hit film from two summers ago THE HEAT (2013).  In THE HEAT, Bullock played a complete character who held her own with McCarthy.  Here in SPY, both Law and Statham play caricatures rather than characters, and so their scenes with McCarthy don’t resonate as well.

That being said, Jason Statham is really funny throughout this movie, and he has some of the funniest bits in the film.  He plays super tough agent Rick Ford, a guy who believes he’s invulnerable.  Trouble is, he can’t seem to stop telling people just how invulnerable he is.  The scene where he spouts off all the ways he has cheated death is one of the more hilarious moments in the film and had me laughing out loud.

Jude Law is less interesting as Agent Bradley Fine, a character that is a one joke caricature of the dashing handsome spy.  Miranda Hart fares better as Susan’s friend and co-worker Nancy.  The scene early on where the two of them go out for a drink at a bar and encounter a beautiful operative who they’re insanely jealous of is priceless.  And later, when Nancy joins Susan in the field, they’re pretty funny together, more so than when McCarthy pairs with Statham or Law.

Allison Janney makes for a convincing hard-ass CIA director.  Rose Byrne as the Cruella-De Vil-ish Rayna Boyanov is okay, although it’s a one-note performance.  Boyanov is the spoiled rich girl gone wrong.  Yawn.  Boyanov is also the phoniest character in the entire movie, and she becomes harder to take as the movie goes along.  I enjoyed Byrne much more when she played Renai Lambert, the mother in the first two INSIDIOUS movies.

Writer/director Paul Feig, who directed earlier McCarthy hits BRIDESMAIDS (2011) and THE HEAT (2013) infuses this one with lots of oomph, energy, and style.  The opening credits sequence is right out of a James Bond movie, specifically the recent Daniel Craig Bond films.  The action sequences here are decent.  While the chase scenes are average and played strictly for laughs, the fight scenes actually look pretty good.  They even sport some realistic blood.

More importantly, the humor remains sharp for most of the movie.  McCarthy stays funny throughout, and Jason Statham surprisingly steals nearly every scene he’s in.

It’s not until the third act of the film that SPY staggers, running out of steam for the simple reason that it goes on too long.  A running time of 120 minutes for this kind of comedy is a bit much.  At this length, it’s difficult to sustain the laughs, and SPY definitely struggles with this.  Shave off about 20 minutes and the comedy would have worked better.

As it is, it reaches the point where you realize that what you’re watching has stopped being funny and has delved head-first into mindless silliness.  There are way too many plot twists near the end, and rather than appear clever, they come off as “we’re not sure how to end this movie so we’ll keep on going till we get it right.”  The film definitely could have used a tighter ending.

SPY still works though.  I laughed throughout most of the movie, and even though it deteriorates somewhat towards the end, it wasn’t enough to stop me from liking it.

Melissa McCarthy is hilarious, and she receives fine support from Jason Statham, who’s surprisingly funny for most of the movie, and from Miranda Hart as her friend and co-worker Nancy.  McCarthy is one of the funniest actors working in film today, and she’s the main reason to see SPY.   I can’t wait to see what she does next.

—END—