King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword Director: Guy Ritchie Screenwriter: Guy Ritchie, Joby Harold, Lionel Wigram. Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Jude Law, Eric Bana, Annabelle Wallis Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures Rated PG-13 | 126 Minutes Release Date: May 12, 2017
The legend of King Arthur has existed for well over a millennia, and as such has given way to countless interpretations of stories, TV shows, and films. So while we may be familiar with the name, there will always be a new way to look at the legend, a new way to tell the story, and a new way to rake in the cash. So just as superheroes are popular now, Guy Ritchie is giving audiences a reason to look at iconic literary characters. But while his previous efforts from the Sherlock Holmes films to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. may have been richly stylized and highly entertaining, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword suffers from a serious case of style over substance.
Check out the full review below.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is very much an origins story about a young boy’s rise to claim his birthright. After resolving a major conflict, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), the father of the future King Arthur, is killed by his jealous brother, Vortigern (Jude Law), and sets his sights on his sister-in-law and young nephew, Arthur. The young prince, who is unaware of his royalty, is raised in a brothel of the back streets of Londinium. Using what he has learned Arthur makes a living with his crew offering protection to those who work at the brothel, until he is collected by Vortigern’s henchman to draw the sword Excalibur from a stone.
It is there that Arthur realizes his destiny to be king and must confront his demons to defeat Vortigern. So with the help of a group of resistance fighters, Arthur will unite the people to end Vortigern’s tyranny and bring peace to all of Britain.
For a film to tell an epic story on a grand scale befitting a summer blockbuster, it falls into the trap of style over substance. The VFX moves the story. But it should be the other way around. Because of that, a lot of these characters aren’t engaging enough to hold audience’s interest. The film just moves along from one action-packed VFX-heavy set piece to the next.
However, it still manages to retain Ritchie’s signature storytelling. There are a number of quick slow-motion jump cut scenes that play alongside the melody of lutes and grunge guitar riffs. Of course, is used to build context or gain a better understanding of the character. But Ritchie may have overused his own storytelling devices. While it is fun to see, it becomes more unimaginative and takes away from the actual story he is trying to tell.
But maybe the film could have used less story to tell. King Arthur feels overstuffed with so many stories it’s hard to remember that it is about Arthur reclaiming the crown. Maybe Ritchie, Joby Harold, and Lionel Wigram should have taken a minimalistic approach to the script. Less is definitely more. And even with a two-hour and six-minute runtime, the film feels like it is trying to do too much and pass it off as an engaging narrative.
With so many stories, it feels like there is plenty to go around to service the characters. But that really doesn’t seem to be the case, as the film wants to move from one set piece and action sequence to the next. There is no attempt to flesh out the characters. Everyone other than Hunnam suffers from a serious lack of character development, and it becomes harder to sympathize with their resistance towards Vortigern. But even Law’s character feels flawed in a sense that he isn’t thinking bigger. Going more into that would step into spoiler territory, so I’ll just stop right there.
Honestly, it feels like they just want to move these characters along to get to the next scene with Hunnam. Sure he plays the lead character, his name is in the title after all, but the supporting players lacked the depth necessary to hold my interest. There are even times where characters establish their importance in one particular scene, but then disappear for the entire film.
That being said, there are a few bright spots to look forward to. For the first time, Hunnam is playing a character that may actually hold the audience’s interest. His performance isn’t as wooden as previous films and he seems to genuinely be having a lot of fun with the character. The action sequences, while sometimes jarring, feel epic when armies clash. And you can feel the power of Excalibur as Hunnam clutches the legendary sword. Its power reverberates beyond the screen as it glows and slashes against enemies. These action sequences gets closer and intimate during chase sequences, making it a very thrilling watch. And when used appropriately, those quick jump cuts can be fun.
Overall, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is just a one-time viewing mess. There’s nothing too particularly interesting about the film. I honestly can’t even remember any action sequences that stick out in my mind. And that’s too bad, because Guy Ritchie films can be a lot of fun to watch. He knows how to make characters colorful and interesting, but the only one who seems to have any of that is the title character. And Hunnam can only do so much on his own. With so many moving parts, it’s hard to believe that the film gets nowhere, fast.
That being said, if you truly need an escape from it all and are in need of a new film to watch, I guess King Arthur: Legend of the Sword fits the bill. Just don’t expect to remember much, if any of it, when the credits start to roll.