Guy Ritchie has earned positive reviews and pleased moviegoers with films such as Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and Sherlock Holmes. He has proved that he can apply his distinctive style and voice to a variety of genres, crafting strong narratives and compelling characters.
Why then are audiences not racing to see Richie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which is officially summer movie season's first bomb?
Consider recent movie history. The above praise of Ritchie could also be said of Mark Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man 2), Josh Trank (2015's Fantastic Four) and David Ayer (Suicide Squad). It was each of their strong storytelling sensibilities and fresh voices that led to film studios entrusting them with some of their largest franchises.
Good filmmakers. Distinctive voices. They should’ve worked, right?
Though there are undoubtedly a number of other contributing factors for those films' shortcomings, one of the most certainly is an issue that plagues more and more summer blockbusters. Whether it’s Marvel, DC or the Harry Potter Cinematic universe, too often a film's individual narrative is steamrolled in the name of setting up the next big franchise.
King Arthur was at one point conceived as kicking off a shared universe, and the film does set the stage for potential sequels and spinoffs. As much fun as a large, interconnected universe can be, what King Arthur and too many studios and filmmakers have failed to grasp is, if the individual installments fail to justify their continued existence, what’s the point?
Even as the aforementioned films did showcase a measure of their directors’ personalities and styles, either the studio or the filmmaker or both just couldn’t wholly reconcile that with servicing the larger universe.
Ritchie's King Arthur includes a couple of scenes featuring his trademark monologue montages, and he uses them to energetically craft an oral history that grows in the retelling and constructs the legend surrounding the film's mythic hero. Webb, with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — just as in 500 Day of Summer — did successfully capture something very personal and candid in Peter's (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen's (Emma Stone) relationship. And we certainly saw a measure of Ayer’s strong ensemble writing in Suicide Squad as well as his appropriately loose visual style.
But time and again, we saw those films fail to stick their landings, because each of their narratives, at a certain point, ceased to belong to those directors or play to their strengths. Webb was forced to juggle three villains as well as hint at many more to set up a Sinister Six movie. Ayer had to sprint through his ensembles’ individual stories to ensure that the franchise was teed up for sequels (and Justice League). And King Arthur underminded its own stakes in favor of hinting at more consequential stories to come.
And while some of these franchises have survived (and even thrived), despite the shortcomings of their individual installments, King Arthur certainly won't make it to film two. Which is a shame, given the number of intriguing directions hinted at by the film’s conclusion.
The round table is finally constructed and Arthur's (Charlie Hunnam) closest friends are knighted — and the sequels could’ve further expanded upon the legend of King Arthur in exciting ways. There were hints at a romance between Arthur and the Mage character (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). The world of magic in general — which in Legend of the Sword was all but extinct — was poised to be further explored, allowing introduction of even a character as iconic as Merlin. The lack of other iconic individuals from the Arthurian legends — such as Guinevere and Lancelot — could have made for some compelling stories.
But all of these characters and plotlines now seem forever out of reach, at least for this cinematic universe, because of that unfortunate decision of putting the proverbial "franchise cart" before the "solo film horse."