"Raise the sword, show the people the power of Excalibur."
I’ll be honest, as ridiculous as it sounds I was not completely against the idea of Guy Ritchie directing a King Arthur movie. I mean it may not have been an obvious choice but in terms of taking a director who has excelled in one genre and asking them to take a step upwards this did not appear to be the worst option. But then those trailers came out, one after the other a ridiculous, overblown, stylistically confusing advertisements made the movie look like a disaster waiting to happen. So going into the movie my expectations were mixed to say the least.
After murdering his brother the power-hungry Vortigern (Jude Law) seizes control of the crown, forcing Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) the son of the former king into a life of hiding. Robbed of his birth right, he grows up the hard way in the back alleys of the city, not knowing who he truly is. When fate leads him to pull the Excalibur sword from stone, Arthur embraces his true destiny to become a legendary fighter and leader.
So I am a bit late in reviewing ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’, a fact that I am reminded of due to how, despite only being in theatres for a week, Ritchie’s fantasy action film has been declared a major box office bomb that is set to create a $150 million loss for the studio. Now, on the one hand that is a bit of a shame since Richie’s unique filmmaking sensibilities have created a blockbuster that is, if nothing else, stylistically different to most big budget disasters out there right now. But on the other hand ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ only shows that unique style occasionally, the rest of the time it boils down to mediocre at best, and at worst laughably ridiculous.
More than anything this movie just feels like that ‘Robin Hood’ movie from 2010 (remember that? Don’t lie, I know you don’t), a few interesting flourishes that have the ability to make the story interesting but also robs it of any recognizable attributes that make it unique. What is most frustrating about this is that Ritchie seems to be at his best when dealing with street level, small time conflicts and for a while this movie genuinely starts to feel like ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ in Medieval times which is in fact somewhat interesting. But sadly most of that is purely for exposition and once the main bulk of the story gets underway we return to contrived plotting, endless backstories and characters whose introduction feels like an obligation.
Ironically, ‘King Arthur’ suffers from the same problem another box office bomb from this year was burdened with, that film being ‘Ghost in the Shell’. They both suffer from what I like to call ‘John Carter’ syndrome, being that while the story they are based upon seems perfectly suitable for adaptation, said story has been cherry-picked so much and had such a profound influence that the once unique elements have already been borrowed by everyone else beforehand. There is nothing to distinguish Arthur as a compelling or unique character because it’s been used as a prototype for so many other “hero’s-journey” stories. That’s not to say it’s impossible to make a modern adaptation of this story that is unique and interesting, but it’s not to be found here.
None of the cast feel engaging enough to guide me through this needless exposition either. Save for Jude Law who revels in what might as well be a moustache twirling villain, Arthur and his band of knights who aren’t actually knights yet just come across as the most bland and uninteresting group of mercenaries you could find. To be fair I wouldn’t necessarily call any of the cast bad, they do their jobs and fill their roles decently, but they offer nothing in the way of a compelling hook to help me digest all of this exposition.
It’s bad enough that the movie be uninteresting but the fact that it’s jam packed with one pointless sub-plot after another makes it feel like an endless display of meaninglessness. None of these revelations add anything to the characters, narrative or themes so why they are even included is beyond me. They all feel repetitive and derivative of one another, with three different occasions in the space of about half an hour in which Arthur is close to defeat and about to surrender only to (spoiler) miraculously be saved at the last minute. Then at the end of it all, if you stop to think about the plot for more than a second you’ll probably come to the conclusion that it makes literally no sense at all. Though there are a few interesting action sequences and finely crafted set pieces it’s not enough to save this sprawling fantasy epic.
‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ is a fantasy epic that’s being pulled in eight different directions, and none of them feel remotely interesting.