The myths of Camelot and King Arthur have plenty of room for revisionist perspectives, even for one that re-imagines Arthur as a kind of streetwise wideboy, wheeling and dealing his way around medieval England before his destiny is thrust upon him. Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is not that film.
From it’s bombastic opening sequence to the thud of its final line falling flat, King Arthur Legend of the Sword is a unsatisfying mix mash of Guy Ritchie’s directorial tics, pointless side quests and boring special effects.
After an attack on Camelot featuring ridiculously giant elephants that seems to set the film up like it’s going to be Guy Ritchie’s Lord Of the Rings, a young Arthur is orphaned in semi-mysterious circumstances and sent down the river, Moses style, to hive of scum and villainy that is “Londinium”. Raised by prostitutes (because this is a Guy Ritchie film) Arthur graduates from the school of excessively hard knocks to become the gruff Charlie Hunnam, earning a crust though various dubious means with his “mates”.
On second thought , let’s not go to Camelot. ‘Tis a silly place.
After crossing the wrong Vikings, Arthur is swept up by the local constabulary and forced to try to pull the sword from the stone. Derived as a sort of STD (Sword Triggered Dissent) test by Arthur’s uncle Vortigern (Jude Law), every man who could be his nephew, must try to pull the sword. No one is more surprised than Arthur, not even David Beckham in a brief cameo, when he successfully pulls Excalibur from the stone and his troubles really begin. With mysterious “mages” (not Merlin) and ex-nobles from his father’s time wanting him to face up to his destiny, Arthur has to come to peace with his past in order to unleash the full power of the sword and challenge his uncle.
This might have been a fun adventure if Ritchie hadn’t tried to cram a 4 pint sword into a 2 pint stone. The story meanders through guerilla warfare, assassination attempts on his uncle, a bizarre, but brief, vision quest to a poorly explained “darklands” full of man-bats and rodents of unusual size and the role of “mages” in the land, any of which could have taken up a full film but are dashed though here at breakneck speed.
It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.
All this is before you get to the R-rated version of Ursula from The Little Mermaid who lives in Jude Law’s basement, the weird reliance on giant snakes in the 3rd act the inclusion of an Asian actor (Tom Wu) as “Kung-Fu George” solely for the purpose of an awful gag reveal at the end and the odd injection of Snatch style banter and cross cutting. Ritchie throws bad ideas at the screen at a ridiculous pace and none of it sticks.
Hunnam growls his way through the proceedings but is saddled with having to face the trauma of losing his parents over and over again before he can unlock the “true power of Excalibur”. In this version this is basically a “power up” that allows the user to cut through swathes of men though the magic of bad CGI.
While the film boasts decent production design it’s hamstrung by awful effects, degenerating into a bad mix of PS2 era graphics and a bad CGI evolution of the slo-mo sequences from Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey Jr. At its peak the camera whirls around partially obscured characters pausing for the “money shot” only to reveal the weak CGI, stripping the action scenes of any excitement.
While Law is entertaining enough as a (not very) conflicted villain, you’re left wondering why everyone else is in this film, particularly Eric Bana as Arthur’s dad. Djimon Hounsou seems to have accepted his lot as a perpetual 2nd tier sidekick/villain, Aiden Gillan turns up because of course you have to have some Game of Thrones actors in there. same goes for Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) too.
The only real female character of note doesn’t even have a name, referred to only as The Mage( Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) and acts as a walking plot-hole fixer.
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana, Aidan Gillen, Freddie Fox, Craig McGinlay, Tom Wu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Neil Maskell
Directed by: Guy Ritchie