As soon as Guy Ritchie’s name pops up for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, it immediately becomes clear what we’re in for. But that isn’t a bad thing. But who better to make a legendary English tale, and turn it into a cockney-themed battle of wits?
I knew little about the story of Arthur, other than him pulling a Excalibur from the stone and becoming king of England. So I was quite excited to see what other elements Ritchie was going to include and do with this film. And what better way to open the film with an incredibly fun action sequence.
Arthur’s father home of Camelot is laid to waste by the fearful mage Mordred, as the balance between the humans and the mages is demolished. In the aforementioned glorious action sequence, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) beheads Modred to save his kingdom. In the aftermath of the battle, Uther is betrayed his power-hungry brother Vortigern (Jude Law) as he sacrifices his wife to feed his need for power.
It becomes quite interesting, because as Uther is celebrated, you see Vortigern looking onward with jealously and it immediately becomes clear on the direction this film is going in. Especially as Vortigern, his right hand men and their army of Blacklegs reek havoc on the Kingdom of England as he is pronounced king of England.
After the whirlwind opening, Uther’s son wakes up on the banks of Londinium. And you immediately know where Guy Ritchie is going to be taking this film. We see the young child grow up, now named Arthur (Charlie Hunnam), into a quite arrogant and street-smart man running the brothel he was raised in. A reputation blossoms for him around Londinium, which gets him in trouble with the Blacklegs, but he also is a bit rough around the edges to go along with his street smarts.
With this street-smart Arthur, comes a sense of arrogance and attitude to anyone that aren’t his lackies. His performance becomes animated and with the help of Ritchie’s distinct filming style and it kind of begins to work well over the two hours runtime. With how the film opens, its quite unsurprising with the direction that the story takes.
What I was surprised at was that there were some incredibly dark scenes held within King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Although the film shied from showing these dark scenes, they were still there. Most of them were centralised through Jude Law’s Vortigern and his ruthless ambition to stop at nothing to keep the crown.
I wasn’t quite sure which angle Ritchie was choosing with the music, because there was often the twang of music that perfectly resonated with that time period, but then was juxtaposed with heavy renditions of soulful music like Sam Lee’s The Wild Wild Berry. Don’t get me wrong, it worked, but seemed very odd, but then again, so is King Arthur sporting an air of arrogance and cockney accent.
So there are a few problems with the film. The narrative isn’t overly imaginative and the end point is clearly visible from the get-go. And the build-up to the climax is fairly ridiculous. During the 120 minutes there is an abundance of exposition upon exposition, and shots of Arthur training or learning to wield Excalibur. It doesn’t feel 120 minutes, it feels more like it’s 240 minutes long. The climax begins to feel as though you’re almost in a video game with the amount of CGI-heavy action and slow-mo sequences held within. That being said, I didn’t find myself bored with the film in anyway.
As I mentioned Hunnam’s performance becomes quite enjoyable, especially as it’s a different take on the King Arthur story, but it’s not an electric performance that had me vying for more. His lackie’s filled in a similar sort of role and provided apt laughs along the way with their advantages in street-smarts. Merlin’s mage friend seemed to be a pivotal character, but hardly offered anything other than a push to help out Arthur and some spells.
Is King Arthur: Legend of the Sword an immediate classic? No. But it is a fun way to spend a couple of hours. There are some incredibly fun scenes throughout, especially Arthur’s conversation with Jack’s Eye (Michael McElhatton) in true Guy Ritchie style. As I mentioned, the narrative and the characters aren’t exactly the most electric, but it’s a fun take on the legendary King Arthur story.