Critically Acclaimed filmmaker Guy Ritchie brings his dynamic style to the epic fantasy action adventure genre, in ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’. Starring Charlie Hunnam in the title role, the film is an iconoclastic take on the classic Excalibur myth, tracing Arthur’s journey from the streets to the throne. When the child Arthur’s father is murdered, Vortigern (Jude Law), Arthur’s uncle, seizes the crown. Robbed of his birthright and with no idea who he truly is, Arthur comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the Londininum, not knowing his royal lineage. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, his life is turned upside down and he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy…whether he likes it or not. He joins the rebellion and a shadowy young woman named Guinevere. He must learn to understand the magic weapon, deal with his demons, and unite the people to defeat the evil dictator, the same man who murdered his parents and stole his crown to become king. ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong adult language.
Guy Ritchie is a prominent enough name when it comes to reputation in film for capturing an original angle of a project that he feels passionate about. Most notably, his action thrillers like The Man From U.N.C.L.E and Sherlock Holmes are my blend of comic awkwardness combined with dire consequences to mesh into a thrilling good time. So when I heard that he was tagged to direct a new adaptation of the King Arthur folklore, it did get me at least slightly curious because his style of filmmaking is more upbeat and faster paced when compared to the Arthur movies of the past that I grew up with. What comes of it is perhaps the strongest argument for why opposites most certainly do not attract. The Legend of the Sword isn’t just a terribly underwritten movie, it’s one whose visual scope in presentation fights to ever stay focused, humiliating itself with jumbled narration that feels like a child on too much sugar. This blending of worlds just doesn’t work in solidifying that middle ages feel of authenticity, and because of it, Ritchie’s dive into the dark ages is a mind-numbing affair of laughably bad cliches that hinder his overall growth as a director on an epic stage.
The story is an origins tale, highlighting how Arthur came to be known as the man who pulled the sword from the stone, but the way it catches the audience up during the first act is one that repeatedly made me wince and felt troubling on the progression of the current storyline. Immediately, The Legend of the Sword feels like it suffers from a lot of the problems that Warcraft did, in that there’s a three hour presentation just screaming to get out here, but has to trim an hour in run time just to keep the butts in the seats. What that decision sacrifices is truly one of the worst first acts that I have seen in 2017. Everything from Arthur’s childhood, to the death of his father, to him being raised on the streets is glossed over like the fast-forward button on your DVD has been pushed to 3x speed. As the film went on, there was also a violent shove into contrasting pacing that often made it feel like two different films. The first and third acts skim through the material that could’ve used more emphasis, yet the second act slows things down by dulling us with the intellectual growth and training of what feels like a ten-year-old. So little pizazz or excitement happens during this scene, and it felt like the batteries on my remote ran out suddenly, after pushing fast-forward so many times during the first hour.
Flashback montages can serve a vital purpose in a film that dives into the past and present, but here it is presented in such a way that convolutes and confuses the audience into trying to figure out which scene is actually current day. For example, a scene will begin, Arthur will then talk about how he escaped authorities, then an immediate cut displaying that story will overtake our visual storytelling. This wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t happen so much that it becomes a drinking game by the end of the movie. It got to the point where I was hoping no character would ask any questions for fear we would be forced to be yanked back into the past instead of steering forward. Hell, sometimes a character will discuss a plan, and while the narration is being heard, we see the plan being executed visually, and then go back to the scene where the discussion took place. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? How does this pass the final cut? A story is usually told in a straight line, but King Arthur would rather scribble left-to-right and vice versa, testing the patience of audience members who don’t luck out in just having this happen during the beginning of the film.
For anyone who loves CGI effects, this movie will be right up your alley. It’s not all terrible, but I wondered frequently if that is because most of the movie’s color scheme is presented so dark, as to not show the graphing and shading of the animated animal counterparts. This movie flies off of the rails quickly in this movie, embracing a code of magic that stretches logic well beyond that of what we’ve come to know in this particular folklore. Because of this, The Legend of the Sword feels more like a fantasy dive into imaginative waters, similar to the same scale as say 300 or Gods of Egypt, the latter feeling more like what we’re given creatively. I did enjoy Ritchie’s camera work in communicating the very immensity and epic of this kind of story. The long-shot angles certainly play into capturing the kind of effect that this war has on the land. Where the CGI doesn’t flatter me is in the final battle scene when all rules in logic are set to burn. Besides the fact that there is CGI fire that doesn’t have smoke accompanying it, there is a forty foot tall snake in this movie that looks like it came straight out of a Windows 95 program. The very movements and synchronicity of this design had me fighting back laughter, and it’s a terrible final swallow of disappointment to go with the two hours that made this Ritchie influenced fast-paced camera style even more boring than that of the lessons we learned about Arthur in Elementary School.
What Ritchie’s scope didn’t nail was that of the fight sequences, which are terribly choreographed and even more terribly shot. This film falls under two of my least favorite annoyances with modern day action films, in that it shoots too close and cuts far too many times to ever register mentally what is being depicted. If that wasn’t enough, this tired old cliche of slowing the action down for two seconds after the registered hit happens is overused to the feeling of walking through a pool of syrup. This kind of effect was cool when it debuted in The Matrix. THAT WAS 1999. Find something new. I will give credit though because without the slow-down effect, I would’ve never been able to register what was happening because of poor sequencing that nearly left me cross-eyed.
The acting wasn’t terrible by a solid collection of veteran actors, but most of the leads did have me violently suspending disbelief to even think for a second that they were who they were supposed to be. Charlie Hunnam is someone who I mentioned during The Lost City of Z who has unbelievable potential if he is given the proper script in offering a compelling character. My problem with him as the title character is that Arthur here feels arrogant, immature, and even heartless when he relates to his peers. The only thing that really makes him Arthur is his wielding of the sword, but without it, he lacks the true essence in awe to become a revolutionary. I blame this more on poor character directing by Ritchie, and a script that hindered Hunnam’s growth behind every turn. Eric Bana is also relegated to a brief cameo as Arthur’s Father. From a physical stature, Bana doesn’t scream to me that he is king of the land, and even more so, his delivery never feels like he fully commits himself to relaying the true heartbreak that his character inevitably will face. The one positive that I did have was Jude Law as Vortigern, not necessarily for his dedication to character, but more for his hamming up at the script that he knew he was far better than. Law is having the time of his life as this character, and he feels magnetic anytime he shows up on screen sporting a shit-eating grin that finds it easy to soak up one of Hollywood’s most charismatic.
THE VERDICT – King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword is attention grabbing, but for all of the wrong reasons. It’s a fast-cutting, logic-bending dullard of a presentation by one of the truly most gifted directors of the past decade, who sacrifices the heart of the original story’s charms in favor of CGI overhauls of animals that leave this story feeling hollow and lacking any kind of considerable substance. It takes a real warrior to pull the sword from the stone that buried this movie under two hours of ridiculousness, but this is one task where I lack the true grit needed to make many positives out of this grand scale disaster. F for Forgettable.