The last time anyone attempted a major new take on King Arthur, it was the star studded but kind of boring 2004 version with Clive Owen in the role of the “real” King Arthur but now Guy Ritchie has taken things in the other direction with the somewhat crazy but not particularly great King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
Charlie Hunnam is the latest King Arthur, although in this re-imagining, he’s more known as the head of gang of thieves in Londinium, where he grows up in a brothel after Camelot falls to his evil uncle Vortigern (Jude Law), who kills Arthur’s parents and takes over the kingdom. When the waters around Camelot lower to reveal Excalibur wedged in a stone, Vortigern compels all men of a specific age to attempt to pull it out to suss out and kill his nephew but, after he manages to pull it out, Arthur is rescued by a resistance group and reluctantly joins them in reclaiming his birth right. If you are a fan of Arthurian legend, you are probably going to have an aneurysm during this movie, as there are tons of inconstinancies and changes to how the story of King Arthur usually goes, not just the Snatchesque origin story and street smart cockiness of Arthur but also that Excalibur apparently bestows superhuman strength and speed to the wielder and only a few of the Knights of the Round are here, instead replaced by characters like Aiden Gillen’s Goosefat Bill or Arthur’s buddies Back Lack and Wet Stick. There’s also the bizarre decision to not include Merlin and instead have an unnamed mage played by Astrid Berges-Frisby for really no reason I can tell besides casting an actress to balance out the predominately male cast (future The Mummy co-star Annabelle Wallis is here as well but basically just disappears despite seeming like a significant part of the cast). Charlie Hunnam is fun as Arthur, basically feeling like he’s been transplanted from an earlier Ritchie movie into a weird fantasy realm and Jude Law is good as always as an arrogant villain. Aiden Gillen and Djimon Hounsou are also great in supporting roles there’s some fun banter between them and Arthur as they try to convince him to take up Excalibur and become the true king.
One of the biggest issues with Legend of the Sword is that it feels like one of those movies that is simultaneously rushing and dragging (cue JK Simmons hurling a cymbal at Arthur’s head). There are tons of Snatchesque montages where big swathes of story are run through in, to be fair, a pretty clever and fun way, but it also drags as well, especially in the middle when things mostly just feel like busy work to get to the final battle. For instance, Arthur, for some unexplained reason, has to go to the “Darklands” as part of his training to wield Excalibur but it’s mostly just an excuse to have big CG creatures attacking him and it really does nothing to further the plot. Also not helping further the plot is the movie’s constant returning to a flashback where Arthur’s father, Uther (Eric Bana), sent him away from Camelot while battling Vortigern in some sort of demonic form. If you took a shot every time that scene came back up, you’d probably be drunk by the time the movie is over and there’s never some huge revelation in that scene that warrants it’s multiple playbacks. The action overall in the movie is not particularly great and it looks downright terrible at times. When Arthur wields Excalibur, he seems to be able to move at super speed with increased strength but the way it’s portrayed doesn’t look any better than what you might see on The Flash on The CW or, what I was really reminded of, the Burly Brawl going all the way back to The Matrix Reloaded. Ritchie was able to show off some stylish looking, speed ramped action in the Sherlock Holmes movies where it seemed like the real actors (or at least their stunt doubles) were being filmed but here it’s just a cartoon and the final battle in particular is just a mess of CG and extremely anti-climactic. The opening though is actually pretty great, with Godzilla sized elephants wrecking havoc and if the movie had maintained that level of crazy fantasy, it probably would have been much more interesting and fun than it turned out to be.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is not egregiously bad but it’s not particularly interesting either and it’s definitely not worth rushing out to theaters to see (which apparently no one did as WB is going to probably lose over $150 million). Charlie Hunnam and Jude Law do solid work and some of the montages are fun in an old school Guy Ritchie way but it’s definitely a step down from the Sherlock Holmes movies or the super stylish and fun Man from UNCLE.