Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writers: Guy Ritchie, Joby Harold, Lionel Wigram
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Astrid Bergés-Frisbey
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
From the mind of Guy Ritchie, we get a retelling of the classic King Arthur legend in what’s meant to be the first of a six-part series. I was looking forward to seeing what new and interesting twists Ritchie would put on this tale, and he creates an interesting world, but the movie ultimately could have done with a lot more original storytelling.
Violence/Scary Images: It’s essentially a movie about war, so there are plenty of scenes with soldiers fighting and killing one another. A character’s ear is sliced off, and a few characters have their throats slit, but no blood is shown. A few characters are attacked by giant snakes, giant elephants, and eagles. Several soldiers are disintegrated by magic. One character murders his wife and daughter.
Language/Crude Humor: F*****g is used once, B*****d is used once, and the British slur B****cks is used several times.
Sexual Content: The main character is stated to have been raised in a brothel, and one woman is referred to as a whore, but nothing explicit is shown.
Spiritual Content: Magic is a prominent plot device, and mages are able to mind control animals.
Drug/Alcohol Content: Surprisingly, none.
Other Negative Content: A character murders his own family to gain power, and Arthur is shown stealing, cheating, and gambling as he grows up on the streets.
Positive Content: The movie contains themes of self-sacrifice and familial love. The protagonist cares for the lives of those around him.
In the latest retelling of the King Arthur legend, Vortigern has stolen the throne of England and is now actively searching for the rightful heir by forcing all of his male citizens to try to pull Excalibur from its place in the stone. After Arthur activates the sword’s power, he is sentenced to death, only to be rescued by a mage and a band of rebels who present him with a choice: embrace Excalibur’s power and claim his heritage, or let England fall into ruin.
The movie starts off strong, with an enjoyable prologue in which the mage Mordred wages war on Camelot, the last human stronghold. The sequence felt as epic as the battle scenes from Lord of the Rings, and King Uther is an instantly likable character. Unfortunately, this excellent starting tone doesn’t last long.
Perhaps the most immediately noticeable thing about King Arthur is its extensive use of camera cuts. Once the focus shifts onto Arthur, we’re treated to an unnecessary and disorienting sequence that I can only describe as a twenty-first century version of an 80s-style montage, which shows him learning to be a stereotypical Hollywood street orphan. From there, the movie seems to take any excuse to start cutting rapidly between scenes, resulting in a stream of time jumps and flashbacks that throw off the story’s pacing and make it difficult to follow what’s going on.
To the movie’s credit, many of these camera-cut sequences are overlaid with witty dialogue, which does lead to a fair amount of amusing moments and quotes. The acting is also strong. Jude Law puts in a great performance as the villain Vortigern, and Hunnam is fun to watch as the smart-mouthed street rat-turned-legend Arthur. While the movie features very few prominent characters, those that it does have are strong and engaging.
The plot, on the other hand, is utterly predictable. Nothing new is added to the tired Chosen One formula. In lieu of meaningful conflict, there’s a heavy focus on fight scenes, but since we get so few characters to care about, it never feels like there’s much at stake. One change to the original story that could have made for some great tension is Merlin sending an apprentice mage to guide Arthur rather than doing it himself. However, she ends up being more of a vehicle to advance the clichéd plot than she is an actual character.
One thing I did greatly appreciate about this movie, however, is that it didn’t shoehorn in a contrived romance. I’m not against characters having love interests, as long as it makes sense and isn’t used as a crutch just to force character tension. Many movies try to prop up weak stories with unnecessary love triangles, and for all the weaknesses the film has, I admire it for not taking that route.
My biggest disappointment, however, was the worldbuilding. It’s clear that the story takes place in a supremely interesting world. There are a ton of cool things that drew me in and made me want to learn more–and the film basically ignores all of it. Any fantasy elements in the film come up only when they’re essential to the plot, and aren’t explained or explored any further. A good example of this is when Arthur is taken to a place called the Dark Lands to learn how to wield Excalibur. This would have been a great place to let the audience discover more about the story world, develop character dynamics, and reveal some more about the nature of Excalibur’s power. Instead, we get to watch another scene cut salad as the movie quickly skims over all of that stuff.
The thing that I care about most in any new story is concept. I can overlook just about any shortcoming or flaw as long as there’s an intriguing, well-executed concept that keeps me wanting to learn more–I want to have something to ponder or that fuels my imagination. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, despite having plenty of chances to provide this, chooses to keep all of its most interesting elements on the fringes in favor of editing gimmicks and a rehashed plot. The end result is that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has a whole lot of flash and not a lot of substance.
The Bottom Line
Personally I’m hoping for Sherlock Holmes 3.