Guy Ritchie takes hold of the reigns of this film and that ought to seem like a good thing – he’s shown his skills in directing and writing before with gangster epics Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, whilst his work on the Sherlock Holmes movies shows that he’s more than capable of transferring his gritty directing style and make it apply to a big fun blockbuster. The ground that he treads upon is fairly standard for a movie about King Arthur. Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is a young man living as a hardened man of the streets (Ritchie is clearly not straying too far from his comfort zone there) who discovers his destiny as the ruler of Camelot when he pulls the mystical sword Excalibur from a stone. Now he has to fight the army of his wicked Uncle Vortigern (Jude Law), who had killed Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) and usurped the throne for himself, to attain his fate. Standard plot for King Arthur but surely this can work under a director as strong as Ritchie?
To be blunt, no, it does not work. The storytelling of Legend of the Sword is an absolute mess – the story is slapshot and all over the place, mainly because of how the film keeps rushing around to get from place to place. It never stops to take a break and it causes the audience to stop carrying about what’s going on. The editing in particular is horrendous as there’s lots of cutting around between different scenes that go way too fast and make the whole film seem like a trailer. Ritchie’s storytelling style of gritty action and dialogue is all over this film but it doesn’t work because of how ridiculously anachronistic it makes the whole film feel – it makes the film seem like it wants to be set in the modern day. There are some particularly odd things in the movie, such as a giant elephant and a Kung Fu master (called George), that do make it a little interesting but they come and go so quickly that they can’t bring things up. Ritchie’s direction is also shockingly poor in this film – the action scenes are dreadful with an insane amount of shaky cam littering the film, making it hard to know who’s fighting who in these dramatic moments, and he overuses the slow motion that’s a prevalent part of his films. This slow motion works in a few instances, most notably with Arthur fighting Excalibur – the slow motion makes it clearer about how greatly powered Arthur is with this magical sword. But aside from that, the slow motion is a chore. These all add up to make the film seem much longer than its 126 minute run time.
But the worst thing about the film are its characters. To put it simply, you don’t give a damn about any of them because they’re so poorly written and one-dimensional, which is a crime given how well known this legendary figures are – with many of the characters you don’t remember their names. The performances match the poor writing. Arthur himself has somewhat of an arc which shows him as being reluctant to take on the powers of Excalibur but it’s foiled by the back and forth nature of the plot. Hunnam’s performance is also very patchy, especially with his accent which skips between Cockney, northern English and even Irish. This makes him a very weak hero, and you start to get the impression that Hunnam was hired because Tom Hardy was too expensive. Of the performances the only one that really shines a little is Jude Law as Vortigern, but that’s because of how wickedly over the top Law is as this villainous character; he’s clearly having some fun being as hammy as possible and he does manage to give some entertainment in his silliness, even if his character is nothing more than a stereotypical and one-dimensional baddie who only wants power and has plans that make very little sense. The rest of the cast are all very weak, with the absolute nadir being Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey as a mage who is ostensibly meant to be Guinevere – she’s horribly monotonous and absolutely reductive every time she’s on the screen. These all serve to make Legend of the Sword that much harder to sit through.
Overall King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is one of the worst medieval set movies in recent memory and is among the very worst movies featuring King Arthur. This is a movie that’s utterly incoherent thanks to its terrible editing and rushed story and can’t even entertain on a fun kind of level because of how terrible the action is. All the characters are flat and poorly written and Ritchie’s attempts to inject his sensibilities into the picture ring completely false. This results in what is a contender for the nadir of Ritchie’s filmography. All and all I’m glad that the terrible box office halted all plans for a continued franchise (there were expected to be five or six films!) and its status as the latest mega-bomb is rightfully deserved.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – Directed by Guy Ritchie, screenplay by Ritchie, Lionel Wigram and Joby Harold, story by Harold and David Dobkin, produced by Ritchie, Wigram, Harold, Akiva Goldsman, Tory Tunnell and Steve Clark-Hall, starring Charlie Hunnam, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Jude Law and Eric Bana. A Village Roadshow Pictures/RatPac-Dune Entertainment/Safehouse Pictures production, a Warner Bros. film
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