KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD 7.5 out of 10; Directed by Guy Ritchie; Written by Guy Ritche; Starring Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Aidan Gillen, Jude Law, Eric Bana and Djimon Honsou; Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language; Running time 126 minutes; In wide release May 12, 2017.
Guy Ritchie is known for many things – gangster movies, fast-paced dialogue and high-impact action scenes – but faithfully recreating classic stories isn’t exactly one of them. His Sherlock Holmes movies, while completely enjoyable do not exactly hold true to the lore that begat them, and that’s the same with King Arthur. Purists will be taken aback, but those looking for sheer entertainment value will find a lot to enjoy.
Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) was raised on the streets of Londinium as an orphan. Unbeknownst to him, he comes from royal blood as his real father was Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) who saved the realm from the evil mage Mordred before being betrayed by his own brother, Vortigern (Jude Law). His lineage becomes apparent after pulling Excalibur from the stone and is suddenly haunted by strange visions of his family’s demise when he tries to wield it. Fleeing for his life, he learns that not only is he the rightful king, but that he must set out on a quest to truly master the powers of the sword and face the demons that have been haunting him his entire life. Accompanied by outlaw mages and future Knights of the Round, he must assault Camelot and seek vengeance on Vortigern for his family’s murders and to reclaim his rightful place as King.
As he did with Sherlock Holmes, writer/director Guy Ritchie takes the familiar Arthurian legends, strips out the bits he likes and then creates a whole new mythos to work with. Though fun, it’s a double-edged sword as hardcore fans who are apt to flock to this film may balk at the liberties he takes with the source material. Merlin is barely even acknowledged, Mordred is dispatched within the first 10 minutes of the film, and Excalibur itself, well, it transforms into an artifact that would feel more at home in a samurai movie or anime than the Dark Ages. Sure, it’s a ton of fun to watch Arthur use it to essentially slow time to a crawl and destroy an army with but a few swings, but in a world where magic is nature-based, it just doesn’t quite fit in.
Ritchie also has a nasty habit of telling us what is taking place through voiceover rather than demonstrating on-screen what is happening. When Arthur journeys to the Darklands to unlock Excalibur’s potential, only a few glimpses are shown of what is taking place. There is a whole movie’s worth of content that is being glossed over to draw us ever closer to the third act just so he can finally have fun with CGI. As much as this is supposed to be a tentpole, summer movie, more care should have been taken to draw the audience in to make them more appreciate the payoff at the end which was also much too rushed as well.
But those gripes aside, this is still a lot of fun. Tons of humor is peppered throughout the dialogue, and there is enough action and swordplay to keep the audience in thrall. Fans of Ritchie will fully enjoy his trademark directing style as a lot of it is reminiscent of his older movies. Hunnam comes across nicely as the thief turned would-be king, and the rest of his compatriots along for the ride play off and with him wonderfully. Jude Law is excellent as always as Arthur’s foil, and he almost elicits feelings of sorrow for him at certain moments if he wasn’t portraying such a horribly selfish and violent tyrant.
At its core, Arthur is the epitome of a popcorn movie; one that audiences can show up to, turn their brains off, and leave the theater having had a good time. It’s nowhere near great but does enough unique worldbuilding and has enough action and laughs to get everyone to cheer. Just don’t go in expecting the stories the world is familiar with.
7.5 out of 10