Next summer will see the first installment of Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur, a planned six (!)-film epic directed by Guy Ritchie, the man behind Snatch, Sherlock Holmes and Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. This is insane for several reasons, the first and foremost being that, although everyone has at least a passing familiarity with the story of King Arthur, it doesn’t inspire the level of zealous devotion as Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings or Marvel movies. And even Marvel didn’t say they were making six Thor or Iron Man movies when the first installments came out — they played it coy pre-Joss Whedon.
So it’s bold, ballsy, and risky for Guy Ritchie to expect a huge franchise to spring from a story that doesn’t have a set of modern popular novels to draw from or a devoted following — not that it doesn’t have one, but academics and people who liked the story as kids aren’t at the same level as Marvel or GoT fanboys. Ritchie and King Arthur are also a strange paring because it’s traditionally a rather wholesome tale. It’s among the first stories to perpetuate the notion of chivalry, and Ritchie is known for his gritty narratives full of street thugs and fast cuts. The whole thing is crazier than a shithouse tarantula … so crazy, in fact, that it just might work. Here’s why.
Here is our King Arthur:
For those unfamiliar with Charlie Hunnam, it’s easy to think casting such a hideous King Arthur is a boringly obvious choice. Presumably, they took one look at him, said, “OK, handsome, you’re hired,” and if he can act, great, but otherwise, the transparent goal is to draw the dude-liking demographic of the population — and in the same vein as Tom Hardy, maybe inspire non-dude-liking members to question their stance. But as I have discussed a time or two, Hunnam is a consistently interesting performer who is neither boring nor obvious. His rage is bone-chilling; his silent pain reactions are unparalleled — as anyone who watched Sons of Anarchy knows from this scene in particular; and if you’ve seen Judd Apatow’s short-lived cult favorite Undeclared, you know he can do light and charming too. And, his swagger game is on point, which is good, because to the surprise of no one, Guy Ritchie’s Arthur will have some swagger. Ritchie told EW:
“I think where the pitfall has often been is trying to make King Arthur bland and nice, and nice and bland. The two qualities make rather compatible bed companions. Unfortunately, they’re not interesting to watch. Luke Skywalker was always the most uninteresting character in Star Wars because he’s the good guy. Good guys are boring… Our King Arthur is not a good guy from the beginning.”
Hunnam’s tough-guy charisma rivals Tom Hardy’s. And, like Hardy’s, it isn’t fake. He is, in short, the perfect choice for what Ritchie aims to do with the character, and he just might do what Clive Owen failed to do: make King Arthur compelling.
The supporting players.
Eric Bana as a warrior. Jude Law as a villain. Djimon Hounsou as a parter in crime. It’s star-studded enough to be exciting, but not too star-studded that it makes you suspicious it can’t live up to its promise like other star studded dissapointments. Jude Law hasn’t done anything noteworthy in a while, and Eric Bana has also been far too absent. So seeing them together won’t feel self indulgent like other celebrity packed pictures. Although Troy was by no means a great movie, Bana’s portrayal of the legendary Hector was the best part of it. As Uther Pendragon, warrior of questionable morality, we can look forward to more performances like this:
As for Djimon Hounsou, if Ritchie takes this six-parter all the way to Arthur’s death, we can look forward to something along the lines of Hounsou’s famous, I will see you again. But not yet. Not yet.
Tears every time.
The story itself.
The legend of King Arthur and his knights provides a veritable playground for storytellers. Dark Magic! Rags to riches! Lannister-style family intrigue! Love triangles! Quests! Knights! Weird creatures! And yet, no modern adaptation has known what to do with it. Clive Owen’s 2004 movie made Arthur too dour, whereas other adaptations focus too much on the love triangle of Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere. Modern adaptations are also at a loss when it comes to the mystical elements — the lady of the lake, the elusive Camelot Merlin’s magic — and so they either handle them awkwardly or forget them entirely.
We can expect the magical elements to get a Game of Thrones-style treatment. Ritchie has said there will be “giant snakes, massive war elephants, and a monstrous viking-like creature known as The Nemesis.” Dope.
Ritchie has yet to release footage of these creatures, but I couldn’t possibly leave you without an image; no monster am I. Here are more pictures from Entertainment Weekly’s photo shoot, for purely professional and scientific purposes.
And finally, the possibilities.
The King Arthur narrative has been scattered in the hands of many different storytellers and spread across different mediums, from epic poems, texts from people like Sir Thomas Malory, yarns from people like Mark Twain re-imaginings like The Mists of Avalon, and famous paintings:
However familiar the story may be, it doesn’t have the kind of multi-novel blueprint like Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, or other epic franchises. But rather than being a drawback, this frees the creators to do what they want without having to worry about the audiences shrieking, “But that wasn’t in the boOOOOOOOOooook!!!”
The fact that they don’t have a blueprint for a six-movie franchise is risky as hell, but it makes it ripe for all manners of possibility. This could be our answer to the problem of Hollywood and originality. It’s got a deceptively bold cast, and more importantly, it’s a bold idea. King Arthur is a fascinating narrative that previous incarnations have not done justice to. It’s in desperate need of some life. So I don’t know about you, but I’m already excited for next summer’s big movie, due out July 22nd, 2016.