King Arthur: Legend of the Sword review
Hollywood loves a good underdog story. As a plot device, underdog characters (especially famous ones like Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp and Rocky Balboa) are relatable and build a lot of sympathy from audiences that have gone through something similar. Comedic or dramatic, it would seem that the key for success is to try and make the character an underdog in some format. The film of today’s subject happens to be one of the most well known: King Arthur. It’s been heavily debated on whether there was a real historical figure because he stood for what was right in an era of England where war raged with Celtics and Saxons. Though he has had many adaptations, my favorite is still The Sword in the Stone (or if you really want something strange, then Monty Python and the Holy Grail).
A gritty retelling of the Arthurian legend is not a bad idea and as soon as I heard that director Guy Ritchie (RocknRolla, Sherlock Holmes) was going to head it, I was intrigued. The man knows how to make some exciting action scenes and reignited an interest in the detective of Baker Street, so I figured that him doing King Arthur would be a good fit. Instead, we got King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
In the kingdom of Camelot, the king is murdered by his brother Vortigern (played by Jude Law) who is able to use magic when he sacrifices his wife to summon a demon knight. Baby Arthur escapes when he is sent down the river and is found by women. Through the years, Arthur (played by Charlie Hunnam) develops street smarts and fighting skills, but continues to have nightmares about the night his parents were murdered. He has no idea of his birthright and continues to live under the Nazi-like regimen of King Vortgern.
Like in the tales, a sword in a stone arises from a lake where several men attempt to pull it without success. It comes out when Arthur pulls it out, but faints overwhelmed by it’s power. The young man is sent to be executed to stop the prophecy. He’s saved by an unnamed mage (played by Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) and taken to a secret hideout where Bedivere (played by Djimon Hounsou), Percival (played by Craig McGinlay) and Tristan (played by Kingsley Ben-Adir) are waiting. Though reluctant, Arthur eventually starts a series of events that lead to him to try and reclaim his place on the throne.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is an example of style over substance. The movie not only looks good, but it’s clear that all the work was put into the design of this Camelot. It even has a plot that should keep things moving. So why doesn’t it work? Guy Ritchie seems to have forgotten the rule of storytelling that character is the most important element of a good script. Arthur is a really bland hero who whose given a bland performance (which surprises me as I’ve seen Charlie Hunnam in better material). To his defense, almost the majority of the characters are just as lifeless.
A lot of that also has to do with the way it’s edited. It seems that the director wanted to get to the action scenes faster by getting through scenes by using a lot of fast wording and mixing battle plans with executions of those plans. Sometimes it can work, but it also costs us time we could have used to gotten to know our heroes. There’s one scene that shows Arthur growing up an learning that could have been twenty of minutes of development, but the scene goes by so fast (about five minutes of flash edits), you barley have time to figure out what kind of a person he is.
I’ll give this one and a half Excalibur swords out of five. There’s a lot to work with the Arthurian stories, but the majority of the movie is a complete misfire. Bad acting, bad writing, bad editing, bad visual effects (including a giant snake that looks unfinished), and even occasional bad cinematography makes this an instruction on how NOT to make a summer blockbuster. This is sword that should have stayed sunk.