King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Review
Charlie Hunnam plays street kid turned good in Guy Ritchie's version of King Arthur
Guy Richie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword goes back to the beginning by way of all his other films in this Arthurian origin tale.We’re all familiar with Guy Ritchie’s initial foray into the world of film directing: Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch paved the way for the director's established style of filmmaking – all hyper-active camera work, catchy music, cockney gangsters and his own signature approach to editing. With two Sherlock Holmes films under his belt and a third announced, not to mention a live-action version of Aladdin, it was only going to be so long before he also jumped on the middle-aged band wagon. There have been numerous adaptations of the legend of King Arthur each one taking a different standpoint and dealing with different elements of the story. Richie’s film embarks on what appears to be an origins story, depicting the rise of King Arthur and his future Knights of the Round Table. The film kicks off slap bang in the middle of an all out battle between King Uther (Eric Bana) and the dark forces that have commandeered a couple of great big elephants.
God knows where the latter came from but aided by his magical sword, Excalibur, Uther manages to save his Kingdom from utter obliteration but is forced to send his only son far away in an effort to save his life and the bloodline. When the young Arthur finds himself washed up on the banks of Londinium he’s fortunate enough to be taken in by a group of prostitutes who raise him from a scrawny pick-pocketing child into a buff, smart mouthed man. Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) has no clue to his ancestry nor to his birthright but when what started off as an innocent enough fight with a bunch of Vikings turns sour, he’s forced to go on the run. Arthur soon finds himself next in line with a bunch of men his age, all trying to pull Excalibur from the stone into which it has been embedded. Only the once and future king can pull the sword from the stone and Arthur soon realises he’s meant for bigger things but before he can do anything, he's locked away awaiting his execution.
But of course the story doesn’t end there. A young female Mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) - a sorceress of types, who could give Dr. Doolittle a run for his money, gathers together a small army led by Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) to form the resistance. They want to see Arthur take his rightful place as king and take down Vortigern (Jude Law) who is determined not only to gain the full power of the sword but to rule with an iron fist and instil fear into his people. With his crew all set, help from his fellow cockney street pals Wet Stick (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and Back Lack (Neil Maskell) and of course Excalibur by his side Arthur is ready to take back what’s rightfully his.
There’s a certain expectation with any Guy Richie film and it’s safe to say that King Arthur fulfils them all and then some. The opening battle sets the tone for a large part of the remainder of the film: elaborate set pieces, that ‘Richie’ style of editing and very loud music - all working to overwhelm anything positive that could come out of it. The whole film reeks of artificiality, which I understand is a requirement to a certain degree when tackling this type of genre, but the landscapes are too dark and gloomy and the action sequences look more like something from a video game.
This version of King Arthur is all action and no trousers
The only point where the film manages to really take off are during the interactions with the characters, but even here it is mostly filler - flashing back and forth instead of seeming to actually do anything. The screenplay written by Richie Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram is packed with one liners and dialogue clearly attempting to fill the comedy check box. This works thanks in part to the casting and despite a slight sense that the characters know that some of the dialogue is pure cheese they pull it off with ease. Running just over two hours the whole film feels long and slightly drawn out using action to try and keep the momentum going.
King Arthur is not exactly bad but it’s not good either. It’s one of those films that feels and looks like it’s trying too hard. There are some redeeming qualities to be found but really, it feels like Richie is showing off and trying to pack way too much into this film. With the ending insinuating possible sequels one can only hope that they have a bit more substance over style.
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