Directed by Guy Ritchie
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law and Astrid Berges-Frisbey
“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is a frustrating film with brief glimpses of stylized brilliance, mixed in with generic CGI bull shit that has become all to familiar with the fantasy genre in Hollywood.
For those that were hoping for a return of the old Guy Ritchie here to bring some of the hip, English flare of his older films to the classic tale of King Arthur you will more than likely be disappointed with his latest farce.
(Warner Bros walking into Guy Ritchie’s house after the box office returns..minus the bald part.)
“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” tells the story of an orphan boy named Arthur who grows up on the mean streets of Londium where fate leads him to discover he is the son of the murdered king Uther Pendragon, who’s throne has been seized by his uncle Vortigern. Upon pulling Uther’s legendary sword from stone Arthur now must become a leader to retake his birth right and vanquish evil from England.
To truly understand why this film largely fails, the movie opens with evil fireball wielding sorcerers riding atop giant, kaiju-sized war elephants raging across Camelot, while Eric Bana’s Uther leaps head first, with his horse falling to its death, from a stone ledge to do battle alone atop these CGI monstrosities.
If any of that sounds ridiculous to you then you may want to steer clear of this movie.
(“Run quicker, men, lest you succumb to schlockiness of the script!”)
Guy Ritchie really works best when his films are grounded and witty. Films like “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” are great because they are fast paced, sharp-witted and present a clear chain events that ultimately culminate in an exciting, climatic finale that usually ends with people getting shot in the face.
Since guns aren’t available in medieval times we can forgive Ritchie for forgoing one end of this formula but while elements of Ritchie’s style are presented here in film, with Arthur and his knights being more like English street hooligans, ultimately what trips the whole movie up is his decision to go with the more schlocke heavy, CGI nonsense as mentioned before.
(Say what you will about Monty Python’s take on King Arthur; at least they used practical effects.)
In fact some of the best scenes of the movie are ironically the ones that are sped through to avoid heavy exposition. After the calamitous intro, we get a sped up retelling of Arthur’s orphan upbringing on the streets of Londium. Stylistically this sequence really highlights some of Guy Ritchie’s best qualities. The fast paced editing, jump cut humor and grounded action tells us all we need to know about Arthur in a short period of time. But at the same time it’s also the most interesting part of this particular Arthur tale and it’s the shortest sequence of the film. If the point of getting this particular director is to give an edginess to the classic tale that it hasn’t seen before, why so little of these kinds of scenes in the movie?
Of course, there is only so much you can do in a two hour time frame but on the other hand why bother going with an unconventional director if you’re not going to cut him loose (since it’s pretty clear this is what the studio did…).
(”We directed him wrong, as a joke.”)
The film is easily the best when Ritchie’s more grounded style is presented on screen, especially during sequences in Londium, but these scenes rarely last and are in the end abandoned for what amounts to Great Value brand Lord of the Rings action sequences made to appeal to lowest common denominator.
In fact the grounded sequences alongside the CGI heavy chunks of the movie feel almost like they belong in completely different films both tonally and visually. The fast paced scenes in Londium are fun, humor-laden and are set on real backgrounds and medieval town settings. Meanwhile scenes in Camelot and the “Dark Lands” (which is never full explained) feel like CGI imitations of Lord of the Rings or worse *gulp* Eragon, all leading to a preposterous, confusing final Soul Calibur final boss fight scene between Arthur and demon (?) Vortigern.
(The final fight scene in a nutshell.)
The story itself doesn’t make much sense either. The whole mages and humans dynamic is never fully explained, nor are Vortigern’s powers or motivations beyond a blind need for power. Also can anyone explain what the hell were those octopus ladies and what the Vortigern’s Soul Calibur final boss form was all about?
Jude Law as Vortigern, despite his acting prowess, is not a very convincing villain either. He is neither menacing, nor intimidating and couldn’t even ham it up for the audience ala Oscar Issac from 2010’s Robin Hood (Another failed Hollywood attempt to reinvent classic medieval literature).
(Gentleman, for now on you will refer to me as King Betty.)
Charlie Hunnam to his credit is sharp as Arthur for the most part and is a believable leading man in this sword and sorcery flop. “Game of Thrones” appearances by Aidan Gillen and Michael McElhatton were enjoyable too and Arthur’s knights offer some nice dry British humor to the film as well.
(Get rid of him now, Arthur! He’ll going to stab you in the back if you don’t!)
But the few good elements of this movie are just not enough to recommend this beyond a matinee, if that, and ultimately “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” will go down as yet another failed attempt to adapt one of the world’s most classic mythological tales to the big screen.
“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” has some genuinely good and fun ideas going on in it but ultimately succumbs to generic, noisy CGI mayhem. It’s a shame that there weren’t more of the grounded stylings of “Snatched” and “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” but this is what happens when big studios want broadly appealing summer blockbusters.
Oh well, there’s always “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” in the meantime.
2.5 out of 5
(Well I for one look forward to the sequel.)