I missed Guy Richie’s latest action flick “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” when it came out in theaters. Having finally watched it last night and thoroughly enjoying it, it brought to light this idea of movie critics grading on a curve as being shown on the film score aggregate Rotten Tomatoes. That another action flick, “Atomic Blonde”, attained a surprising 75% rating while “King Arthur” managed a measly 28% shows that critics not only judge the film by itself, but also by trends in genre, and the filmography of the director.
I am not claiming “King Arthur” is a masterpiece, or even a much superior film to “Atomic Blonde”, but reading the tidbits from RT shows that those who reviewed “King Arthur” factored in the fact that there have been numerous films made about the medieval character in years past, and that Guy Ritchie, known for his manic pacing and stylish shots and editing, and crisp British dialogue, did not bring much to the (round) table.
If you look at (period) action films in the past ten to fifteen years, “300” stood out as a film loaded with stylized action and which many filmmakers tried to emulate since but failed. Snyder took a comic book interpretation of history and made it his own, loaded with magical elements that clearly were not historically accurate but nevertheless fun.
Ritchie’s “King Arthur” is a slice of the same pie: it does not pretend to be historically accurate nor does it take itself seriously, what with a plot containing mystical mages and a character turning into essentially the Grim Reaper, but above all, the film was fun. With a solid performance by Charlie Hunnam and good chemistry among the supporting cast, including a Jude Law who was clearly basking in fun playing Vortigen, without comparing it to previous iterations of King Arthur movies, “Legend of the Sword” is good popcorn entertainment. The film probably would have received much better reviews if it came out a few years earlier, when this type of stylized action was all the rave.
In contrast, the action genre rave now lies with the hard-hitting, gritty martial arts action films such ala. the John Wick franchise, and “Atomic Blonde”, helmed by one of the co-directors of Wick, David Leitch, rode the popularity of the genre and made a film that contained John Wick-esque action scenes but an incredibly messy and unsatisfying plot. The success of the film lied with Charlize Theron, who satisfied audiences by playing a dangerous assassin kicking some serious ass and looking super hot while doing it.
The upshot of my rant is this: When deciding whether you want to see a film, take not only the RT score but many sources into consideration, such the trailers. And don’t be dissuaded from watching a film just because of the change in trends. Against “consensus”, I will admit unashamedly that I enjoyed “Legend of the Sword” more than “Atomic Blonde”.
“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” – 6.9 / 10
“Atomic Blonde” – 6.5 / 10