‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ unworthy of its own name

by Tim English on May 11, 2017

in Print Reviews,Reviews

 [Rating: Rock Fist Way Down] 

Loud. Obnoxious. Annoying. Confusing. Misguided. All of these words could be used to describe Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which plays like an origin story with the purpose of world-building toward a potential franchise. Hopefully we don’t get that far.

While there are some decent moments here (visually anyway), there’s not nearly enough good coming out of this misfire to warrant any future exploration, especially if this way we’re going to do it. Guy Ritchie’s reboot plays more like a music video, foregoing actual storytelling in favor of catering to a video-game addicted, ADHD culture.

The legend of King Arthur, whether or not he’s based on a real dude has always been a subject of debate, offers a lot of really interesting opportunities to create an interesting world worthy of a cinematic universe. Unfortunately, Ritchie seems happier merely hinting and suggesting at these core elements, themes and crucial characters — Merlin merely mentioned a few times but never seen? Fail. And boring too, especially when supernatural magic plays a major part in this tale.

Instead of making a bad ass movie about a bad ass dude, he weaves in references to other kinda similar-ish movies, including Lord of the Rings, Robin Hood, but ultimately you’ll be left longing for better versions of King Arthur. Excalibur (1981)? Camelot (1967)? Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)? Even the 2004 Jerry Bruckheimer version is starting to look pretty good in retrospect. But then again, it had Keira Knightley it it.

Charlie Hunnam, known primarily by women and/or fans of Sons of Anarchy plays the legendary Arthur on his journey to become King of Camelot. I’m really not sure what the appeal was to casting him in such a potentially scene chewing role for a better actor. I know the ladies love him, I’m sure that’s a huge reason (that would also explain David Beckham making a cameo.) I never watched SoA, but I remember him being pretty unmemorable in Pacific Rim, so based on his performance here, where he babbles all of his lines in the same gruff, dull, monotone cadence, I don’t get it.

Granted the nonsensical script gives him absolutely no room to show any kind of personality or range as an actor. It’s just not that kind of movie. He’s a live action prop, just like the rest of the meat bags in the flick. Jude Law looks bored, scowling lifelessly through a played out, predictable role. Some of the future Knights of the Round Table are introduced, but nobody memorable. Except the dude that plays Little Finger on Game of Thrones (Aiden Gillen), but even he feels slightly miscast as the sure-shot archery sniper guy.

Ironically, despite the fact that I loathed the ADHD video game/music video storytelling method, I did kinda dig the score by Daniel Pemberton as well as some of the imagery Ritchie conjures. He’s always had an incredible visual flair, no doubt, and while there is some really cool shit going on here, it’s nearly impossible to follow, much less become emotionally involved in anything going on because of the way the plot unfolds.

Instead of a linear narrative where the action unfolds in a natural manner everything is told through montage, usually aided by a long-winded, melodramatic monologue about power, and family, or purpose or some shit. There are a lot of scenes where characters sit around and explain how something will happen, while intercutting scenes of said plan paying out. One of the most interesting challenges for Arthur, venturing into a dark, evil forest tasked with placing Excalibur atop a mountain is told through montage, giving us some highlights, some of which look pretty fucking cool. Why can’t we see this play out, Guy?

You’d think the action would make all of this other crap worth it. Sadly, no. In fact some of the most cringe-worthy moments come when Arthur harnesses the power of Excalibur. The results are a sad display for an early summer blockbuster candidate and look more like simulated video game play footage created for an X-Box TV spot — and then there’s all the shaky cam BS. The movie boasts a PG-13 rating but the violence feels pretty tame. Worse yet, it feels wanting — like it so wishes it had an R-rating to really be as hardcore as it was trying to pretend it was.

The said things is, I would be totally down for an Arthurian cinematic universe with a proper telling of Arthur, Merlin, the Lady of the Lake, Lancelot, etc. and this flick did absolutely nothing for me. There’s a lot of ground for some interesting stories to be brought to life, especially in this time when practical and computer FX can be blended so seamlessly, but it’s going to take the eye of a far more nuanced and patient filmmaker.

Ritchie has always hit or miss, and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword encapsulates everything that is irritating about Ritchie’s ADD style of filmmaking and the gross misperception of what makes an film epic.

Writer. Ad Man. Jedi. Sometimes people ask for my opinion on movies. Sometimes they agree. Member of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Creator and voice of the Reel Hooligans podcast. Find us on iTunes. Board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City and founder of the Terror on the Plains Horror Festival.

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