Our King? Well I didn't vote for you
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is directed by Guy Ritchie and stars Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, and Eric Bana.
I am one who does not have the luxury of being an expert of medieval history and medieval literature, but my understanding of the Arthurian legends, which King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is of course inspired by, is that there is no universal agreement upon what are the right characters, stories, and themes that every Arthurian text should include. That being said, I have no right to properly assess the accuracy or faithfulness of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword towards the legend that inspires it, but after having seen the film, judging King Arthur: Legend of the Sword based on its historical accuracy it the least of my worries.
The film was one of the first releases of the 2017 summer movie season, and the general consensus from critics was a scathing one: audiences should stay away from this wretched telling of a classic, centuries-old tale. Now, I've talked with enough family and friends to know that people are not always going to listen to critics, which is completely understandable: critics are just people with opinions like you and me, and they very much could hate something that you love, and vice versa. But I say to you though, there are times when critics get a movie absolutely right, and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is absolutely one of those times.
Holy crap, what in the hell has Guy Ritchie done? The director behind Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and both Robert Downey Jr.-led Sherlock Holmes movies has given us a hollow and ass-backwards King Arthur film that I don't think critics ripped on enough. The fact that this is supposedly the first of a six film King Arthur cinematic universe only induces an uncomfortable feeling of anxiety within me, because Charlie Hunnam's King Arthur is one that I very much would like not to go back to, let alone see featured in more trailers for those future King Arthur films, if they're still going to happen (God I hope not). If this film did anything good for me, it's that it confirmed that my decision to save a few bucks and skip seeing the film in theaters was a wise one.
So anyway, our plot opens with text informing us of how man and mages lived together in peace, until the warlock Mordred decided to turn the mages against humanity. Mordred's conquest takes him to man's final stronghold: Camelot, where he unleashes giant, destructive elephants to lay waste to the Camelot army. The British king, Uther (Eric Bana), is able to infiltrate Mordred's lair and kill him, thus saving Camelot. Not all is well however; Uther's treacherous brother Vortigern (Jude Law) seeks possession of the throne, and he puts together a coup in which he must sacrifice his wife to a group of hags. The sacrifice allows Vortigern to transform into a demon knight, and he kills Uther's wife, followed by killing Uther himself in combat. Uther's son, however, survives the ordeal, drifting away in a boat and eventually ending up in Londinium, where he is discovered and raised by prostitutes. Uther's son, Arthur, grows up to be a skilled fighter, and, after a skirmish involving Vikings, shows to be the one who is able to successfully pull the Excalibur sword out of the stone it is wedged in. Despite this, Arthur finds himself unable to control the sword's power and is reluctant to accept his destiny as Britain's rightful heir to the throne.
There are several more plot details that I forgone mentioning, because trying to discuss all of the other relevant characters and how they fit into the plot is just not worth the time. Basically, there's also a bunch of rebel fighters who save Arthur from being executed, and they try to help him harness the sword's power and gather up the strength to be able to face Vortigern. The story of King Arthur is one that seems straightforward enough, but somehow Guy Ritchie fudges it up enough to make it seem way more dense and complicated than it needs to be. At its best, the movie is an entire season of Game of Thrones squished into a 126 minute motion picture. At its worst, the movie is a derivative spin on something like Gladiator. Either way, it's not very much fun.
- King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is at least able to give us a surprisingly compelling performance from Jude Law. Vortigern makes several tough decisions throughout the film, starting with the sacrificing of his own wife, decisions that clearly display how ruthless that Vortigern is at his core, doing whatever he must to keep his position as king. The best bit of dialogue in the entire film is when Vortigern gives a brief monologue about how being feared is one of the most powerful feelings in the world, being so intoxicating that you completely lose yourself in it. I adore this monologue, because it's spoken with such panache and it's about the only thing we will likely remember from the entire film. Law may not be over-the-top entertaining, but he does prevent Vortigern from being a stale and uninteresting antagonist.
- Ritchie's direction when it comes to the story-telling is so ham-fisted that I don't see how any perfectly functioning human being can get through all 126 minutes without feeling the slightest bit bored or confused. On several occasions, Ritchie has basically two bits of the story going on at once, where in the first bit, one character (usually Arthur) is talking about what is going to happen, while in the second bit, we actually see the thing that was being talked about in the first bit actually happening. The choppy editing goes back and forth between these two bits, and our understanding of where the story is at the current moment becomes more and more opaque. Admittedly, these "show two parts of the story at once" scenes feature snappy dialogue in the usual Guy Ritchie taste, but it's not up to par when compared to Ritchie's other films. I also did not appreciate how the movie hits the fast forward button when showing us Arthur growing up on the streets. There would be some worthy material hidden in that period, and I don't know exactly why Ritchie just glossed over it.
- I wish storytelling could've been the only real issue with this film, because that would have been forgiving, since there's no one set King Arthur story. Oh, how optimistic I like to be. The movie also suffers from being tonally inconsistent, sometimes being incredibly jokey while other times trying to be dead serious. The movie tilts more towards the comedic side, thinking it can ride along streams of one time jokes and quips, yet not bothering to go for proper comedic set-up or do something like have a recurring punch line. This is a far far cry from the type of medieval humor you'll find in something like Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Once Arthur is able to control Excalbiur's power, he's able to take on swarms of Vortigern's men without even breaking a sweat in action scenes that like to utilize a slow-then-fast-then-slow style that looks like as if it was directed by Zack Snyder if he was having a bad day. The camera work and CGI also make the action scenes look like they were straight out of a video game, and it's not the least bit entertaining. The movie also features a soundtrack by Daniel Pemberton that at times sounds incredibly anachronistic, no better indication than a song called "The Devil and the Huntsman" that plays when Arthur arrives to take on Vortigern, attempting to be a, "hero arrives, ensue cool music" slow-motion scene that doesn't work.
I did not have high expectations at all for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, assuming I would find it an average time waster at best. I must say though, I was rather surprised that I found this movie to be a total slog, barely being rescued from mediocrity by Jude Law and his portrayal of Vortigern. If someone comes along and tells you that this movie is epic, fun, and a total blast, they are flat out lying to you. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a boring, fun-free, fantasy misfire that feels much much much longer than its 126 minutes and finds Guy Ritchie in one of his worst directorial outings ever. If only this movie could have found a way to be hilariously bad, because there is almost always entertainment value found in that department.
Recommend? No. Stay away from this film.
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