Movie Review – King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

TL;DR – King Arthur is a fascinating film as long as you don’t care that much about the source material, though it does have more than a few lulls and awkward story moments

Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars

King Arthur Legend of the Sword

Review

So this was a surprise, from all accounts, and my own expectations going in I was expecting a dumpster fire in movie form. Instead what I got was sure a flawed film in many respects but also a really interesting one as well. So today we are going to look out how this film approaches the legend, how the cast works, then the parts of the film that excel and the parts that really fall short. So let’s begin with how they approach the myth of King Arthur, and well it’s interesting.

Because it is in the public domain, the King Arthur story is one of those narratives that gets remade over and over again. We’ve had miniseries do a classical remake, we’ve had it reinterpreted into a teen angst drama, a side event on a fairy tale TV show, we found out that Camelot was a bit silly, and we even got it reimagined as a real world event as the Roman’s retreated. So you needed to do something new, make an interesting idea, approach it from a different angle, or else you risk the question of why should I watch this when there are already versions of this out there. So King Arthur: Legend of the Sword approaches this conundrum by just having the Arthurian legend as a window dressing for the story. So we have Arthur witnessing his parent’s death before being raised in a brothel and becoming a black market leader in an occupied town. You have some nods to people in the legend but some core members get barely a cameo, and some are missing altogether. On the one hand, this gives the filmmakers a lot of latitudes to tell a story that is not confined to a certain progression, on the other hand, if you are a fan of the original legend you are going to find the inconsistencies jarring. As well as this, they take bits of reference from everywhere and smash it together, we have the very magical Camelot existing at the same time as the real world Londinium after the Roman exodus, with a little Old Testament thrown in there for good reference. So this leads to a movie with giant elephants existing at the same time as negotiations with Norse traders, a martial arts master teaching students in an abandoned Roman bathhouse, and people of legend working within the social structures that existed at the time.

Charlie Hunnam is a really good Arthur

Charlie Hunnam is a really good Arthur

Part of what worked for me is that it’s clear that the cast was on board for whatever Guy Ritchie threw at them. We have Charlie Hunnam as Arthur, who I’ve not see much of before but he really brings a command performance here, a sort of suave cockiness but also being a bit down to Earth, I wouldn’t be surprised if his name is on a Bond shortlist somewhere.   Jude Law as Vortigern, is just eating up the stage stealing almost every scene he is in. The rest of the cast is given good performances, hell even the David Beckham cameo was incredibly watchable. Also, it’s just great to see Eric Bana back on the big screen, Hollywood needs to cast him in more movies.

Something that I really found interesting with King Arthur is how Guy Richie took a film set in the Middle Ages, or a weird alternate reality where after the Romans left mages traipsed around England in giant elephants, but also embodied it in what is a very modern style. The outfits, the hairstyles, all feel a bit out of time, but it is more than that. In many ways, there is also this undercurrent of a modern gangster film beating just under the surface. I mean at one point Uther (Eric Bana) literally goes ‘hold my crown’ before jumping straight off a collapsed bridge into the previously mention giant elephants. This is also reinforced with editing style of the film, uses a combination to frantic montage scenes, this might have some of the best montage scenes I have seen in a very long time. As well as this, King Arthur has some really interesting sequence editing, which for the audience has a way of keeping you always on your toes. A good example of this is where Arthur plays out what would happen if he is introduced to the great families of England.

Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey plays 'The Mage' or 'I am an important character from the myth whose identity won't be revealed until the sequel'

Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey plays ‘The Mage’ or ‘I am an important character from the myth whose identity won’t be revealed until the sequel’

One big standout for me was the musical score by Daniel Pemberton. I’m a big fan of bending musical styles, or taking something familiar and putting a new spin on it, or using music as a juxtaposition and it is here where King Arthur shines. Most high fantasy films or medieval period pieces use a classic orchestral score, which I’m not knocking at all, I mean just listen to the power of Howard Shore’s score for Lord of the Rings or Ramin Djawadi’s score for the latest episode of Game of Thrones. But it is nice to see someone put a spin on the familiar, which is what we get here. The standout has to be what I think was an electric violin or a real violin that has been modified in post-production. Using an instrument that couldn’t exist at the time creates this interesting dichotomy and helps create that modern veneer that the movie sits in. As well as this, King Arthur also has a fantastic driving drum beat during some of the action and montage scenes, which really jells with the slight frenetic pace of the editing. All of this is combined to create a really interesting soundscape in the film.

Now while there are some interesting parts in King Arthur there are a couple of things that do really hold it back, though how big of a problem these are might change for you. While I did like the story overall there were some issues, for example, it did start to feel that this was a film with some great action scenes and other sequences, but in-between them there was a lot of treading water waiting for the next moment of action. [Spoilers] As well as this, it does feel like a lot of character motivations ended up on the cutting room floor so we are left with some weird scenarios. You can see this with Goosefat Bill (Aidan Gillen) who is shown throughout the film to be incredibly smart and knowledgeable, who forgets all of that when he risks everyone’s lives to kill Earl of Mercia for no reason. Also, at one point Arthur is betrayed by one of his own, but we see no reason for why this person turned it’s just like they’re good, oh wait, nope not anymore. Another big issue was that some of the fight scenes it became very clear that it was a CGI model fighting and not an actor. This is disappointing because other than this, the rest of the CGI and visual effects are really good. [End of Spoilers]

Jude Law revels at being the big bad

Jude Law revels at being the big bad

In the end, even with its problems, I did really enjoy this weird ride called King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword. When you have actor throwing themselves into the roles, a story that is bonkers but people care how portrayed, beautiful sets, and a rocking score, well you have the components of an interesting film. Of course, that being said, if you really like the Arthur legend and you are not a fan of big diversions well this might not be the film for you.

 

 Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Guy Ritchie
Screenplay by – Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram & Joby Harold
Story By – David Dobkin & Joby Harold
‘Based on’King Arthur Legend
Music by – Daniel Pemberton
Cinematography by – John Mathieson
Edited by – James Herbert
Starring
– Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Craig McGinlay, Tom Wu, Neil Maskell, Freddie Fox, Annabelle Wallis, Bleu Landau, Mikael Persbrandt, David Beckham, Michael McElhatton, Peter Ferdinando, Poppy Delevingne & Eric Bana
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13

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Movie Review – Ghost in the Shell (2017)

TL;DR – This is a difficult film to review as it excels in so many different ways, the music, visuals, and it really nails the aesthetics, but something is missing and it just felt more ‘safe’ than anything else.

Score – 3 out of 5 stars

Ghost in the Shell

Review

So it’s the future and the world has moved towards merging the biological and the machine with people adapting themselves with cybernetic implants. However, this is only augmentation, but now the supposed next step in human development is here, with a human brain inserted into a robot body, a ghost within the shell. Is this the next stage in human existence or simply a weapon being released into the world, a saviour or a curse? This is the set up for Ghost in the Shell a movie adaption of the original manga series of the same name. Well it has been a rocky launch for Ghost in the Shell, and we’ll get to that issue in a moment, but first I need to take a moment to explain my relationship with Ghost in the Shell before talking about its positives, and then we’ll get into what didn’t work.

The city is such a contrast between old and new

The city is such a contrast between old and new

Now before we start I need to explain where I am coming from with regards to Ghost in the Shell, because I’m not coming into this blind as I would for most films, but more so I think this past experience has impacted on how I view the film. Growing up I never read the manga, nor watched the original anime film, however, what I did watch was the anime television series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. I bring this up because SAC gave us a much deeper insight into the world of Ghost in the Shell and the themes at play, indeed I would consider it my second favourite anime series of all time. So I’m more of an Inner Universe than Making of Cyborg guy, but more than that I was enthralled with the ethical issues around Transhumanism that the television series really explores in depth, what does it mean to be human, when are you not human, when is someone alive, is there morality? I bring this up because for me Ghost in the Shell is more than just an interesting setting, and people shooting at each other with CGI in the background, it is this exploration of themes which are becoming more important questions to ask today with the rise of drone warfare.

So let’s talk about what I really liked about Ghost in the Shell because there are so many things that it does get right. I really loved the music, they got the tone just right with a blend of classical instruments, vocals and electronic sounds that feel both familiar but also slightly off, like there is a discord in the music and in the film. The visuals of the city are simply stunning, it feels like a real place in our future, because you know if they got 3D projections the first thing they would be used for is advertisements everywhere, go big or go home. More than that is the little details that you can see everywhere, that shows the filmmakers put a lot of effort into getting the details right. This is also helped by getting Weta Workshops to design for your movie, they are experts in their field and it shows here. You know, I have to reiterate how good the visuals are, sure there are one or two odd CGI moments, but the use of colour to accent in a world of darkness really works, and aesthetically they have nailed that cyberpunk feel. There is a good arc to the story, and the world is filled with interesting characters. While the action is not quite up to the Dredd or John Wick standard, it is all well executed, as well as this, the action is easy to follow, except for those times where it is clear that the film is deliberately making it difficult to see what is happening because it is there to be deliberately confusing, rather than the actually confusing in movies like Taken 3.

Weta Studios production design is simply phenomenal

Weta Studios production design is simply phenomenal

Now talking about the cast before we discuss the contentious part I have to say that on the whole I actually liked the casting in the film. They film goes out of the way to show a generally quite diverse cosmopolitan city and you can see that in most of the casting. I did quite like Pilou Asbæk who played Batou, and Takeshi Kitano who played the chief. Now this being said we then come to Scarlett Johansson who is not Japanese who played Major who is Japanese in the original film and manga. Now I can actually see why they did that, as there are no other big name actors in the film, and to get funding I would suggest that it was probably a condition that there was a big name as the lead. Now this, of course, puts it squarely in the same camp as films like Gods of Egypt or Pan, and other films which have had similar problems. However, the issue is the body is just a shell, and the original director of the films Mamoru Oshii has gone on record and stated that “The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name ‘Motoko Kusanagi’ and her current body are not her original name and body, so there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her. Even if her original body (presuming such a thing existed) were a Japanese one, that would still apply”. This all being said I didn’t really gel with Scarlett Johansson’s performance because it felt more of a riff of her character from Lucy than a portrayal of Major. Also [MAJOR SPOILERS] it is revealed that she was Japanese and her brain was planted in her current body by an evil corporation to hide where they got the brain from, which I don’t know if that makes it better or worse, but it does feel like the kind of thing an awful corporation would do, and of course it is not helped by the diverse cast of the squad getting very little on-screen time. [End of Spoilers].

This aside just, in general, I found myself not gelling with the movie as much as I would have liked, and I think it was a combination of factors, some of which I have already touched on, that created some distance between me and the film. Firstly, I think it was a mistake to tone down the film to secure the American PG-13 rating. This is not because I particularly like R-rated films over PG-13, it is because contextually it would have fit the tone of the manga and original film, but more importantly it would better fit the themes at play. Now of course they went for a PG-13 rating because it is a safer bet, but for example in a film about what is it to be a human or a machine it was a mistake to have that clinical PG-13 action film where people are getting shot/stabbed but there is no blood anywhere, because one universal thing about humans is that we bleed, and thus immediately you have lost an important juxtaposition. Now films like Logan and Deadpool and many others have proved this notion wrong, but as always they went for the safe option. Indeed being too safe may be my biggest issue with Ghost in the Shell because we see it in the themes of the film, or the lack of it. As I said at the start the themes at play here are about what is it to be human in a digital/cybernetic world, this is an important area to explore because we may be living it sooner rather than later. However, Ghost in the Shell might dip its toes into these ‘what does it mean to be a human’ debates, but it is content just to tell a story about corporations and technology, a story lost of meaning and one we have seen play out time and time again. Another area where it fails is in the relationships, for most of the squad we get a single line of dialogue, oh I’m the ‘don’t like enhancements’ guy and that’s it, we don’t see them as a team.

It missed the opportunity to really delve into these issues

It missed the opportunity to really delve into these issues

In the end, I think somewhere during the production the film lost a lot of its spirit in an endeavour to be safe forgetting that everything about the original was meant to be provocative or indeed challenging. So while Ghost in the Shell still has a lot to recommend, and indeed the things problems that I had with the movie may just be subjective issues. However this being said, overall I felt Ghost in the Shell was on ok film but not a great film, and given its legacy that’s honestly a bit disappointing.

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Rupert Sanders
Screenplay by – Jamie Moss, William Wheeler & Ehren Kruger
Based onGhost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow
Music by –  Clint Mansell & Lorne Balfe
Cinematography by – Jess Hall
Edited by – Neil Smith & Billy Rich
Starring
– Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han, Juliette Binoche, Lasarus Ratuere, Danusia Samal, Yutaka Izumihara & Peter Ferdinando
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13