King Arthur Legend of the Sword review: Guy Ritchie serves up his take on the legend.
King Arthur Legend of the Sword review by Andrew Gaudion, May 2017.
In a land where everyone and their Uncle is being rebooted, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to see a new take emerge of one of Britain’s greatest mythical figures; King Arthur. It also shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to find Guy Ritchie at the helm following his success at bringing Sherlock Holmes (2009) back to mainstream audiences to the tune of over $500 million at the box office. And, if you have seen any of the trailers, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to you to learn that Ritchie’s take on the Arthurian is really quite terrible, never finding its footing as it struts in arrogant swagger, dragging the blade of Excalibur and our general disinterest across two bruising hours of a rather blunt legend.
Richie’s take re-imagines the orphaned Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) as a street-wise hustler who has been raised in a brothel following the death of his parents, King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) and Queen Igraine (Poppy Delevingne), at the hands of his evil Uncle Vortigern (Jude Law) who now rules Britain with a tyrannical rage. When the mythical sword Excalibur makes itself known and Arthur removes it from the stone, he is thrown into a battle for the very throne that was robbed from him as a child.
Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies proved to be a fun and exciting blend of his signature stylings and Hollywood action, but the recipe for that blend appears to have been lost somewhere along the way to Camelot as his Arthur never quite pulls the sword from the stone to deliver a re-imaging that feels all that worthy of your time.
The down-and-gritty street approach that clearly stems from Ritchie’s preoccupations with male swagger and bravado, never gels with the more fantastical and mythical elements on display, as it soon becomes clear that this very much feels like two screenplays stapled together in the hope that some cohesion will form from the fires of an editing room. It doesn’t help that Ritchie constantly structures scenes in a non-linear fashion, with most of the action occurring in sequences in which the plan of action is being described while we’re seeing it. This trope is perfectly fine when used sparingly, but Ritchie employs it at nearly every opportunity, leading to a film which is incredibly disjointed with very little sense of momentum or clear storytelling.
The messy structure could perhaps be forgiven if the film was at least a visual treat but, alas, Ritchie has made his medieval legend look like a muddy puddle that people keeping running through from time to time. His palette is grey and grimy and is often populated by visual effects that wouldn’t make the cut in a PlayStation cut-away scene. All of this amounts in a film which ultimately ends up feeling incredibly blunt and very dull, as it is played too safe to truly thrive as a Guy Ritchie joint, and too manic to play out as a traditional fantasy epic.
On a slightly more positive note, the cast do the best they can with the material they are given. Charlie Hunnam is rather arrogant and cocky as the lead, but you can’t blame him as that is how the character has been written, and it unfortunately leads to this version of Arthur as one who is not all that likeable. Jude Law brings a great deal of brooding menace to his role as chief antagonist, proving to be a very watchable presence during his screen time, but his performance is underserved, particularly in the final confrontation.
It is a shame that Ritchie’s take hasn’t resulted in a worthy flick, particularly one that is eager to get audiences excited about a potential franchise with this Arthur and his band of merry knights. From early reactions, it looks like this King’s future is a little uncertain. On evidence of this instalment, that is probably a good thing. This is one of the duller and uglier blockbusters in recent Hollywood summer fare. Put that sword back where you found it Arthur, it’s a bit blunt.
King Arthur Legend of the Sword review, Andrew Gaudion.
King Arthur Legend of the Sword is released in UK cinemas on Thursday 18th May 2017.