Every so often, the movie studios get it in their heads to tell the King Arthur legend—again. This time, Director Guy Ritchie takes the helm with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Is this one any good or should it be thrown back into the lake?
The film stars Charlie Hunnam as Arthur, the rightful King of England, who has been living in hiding since his father (Eric Bana) and mother (Poppy Delevingne) were murdered by his uncle, Vortigern (Jude Law), who is now the king. Arthur was raised in a brothel and, of course, knows nothing of his royal heritage, as he was too young when it happened and he has blocked most of the trauma from his mind. Still, he is haunted by nightmares of the night his parents were murdered. He becomes a fairly successful mid-level criminal running grifts and such as he and his crew keep the ladies of the brothel safe. However, when the lake waters recede at the castle and his father’s sword, Excalibur, is once again revealed, Arthur is captured by the local magistrates and forced, just like every other man of his age in the land, to attempt to pull the sword from the stone. Obviously he does, and instead of killing him on the spot, Vortigern makes a spectacle of his execution and he is freed by the fledgling resistance led by his father’s former compatriots, Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and “Goose Fat” Bill Wilson (Aiden Gillen). They are aided by The Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey), who is supposedly connected to Merlin somehow, but that wasn’t enough for her to get her own proper name, apparently. Arthur must learn how to tap into Excalibur’s magic and accept his destiny as the true King of England, while Vortigern squeezes the people in order to find his nephew so he can kill him.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is far from a great movie. It is a fun adaptation of the story, though. By this point in Ritchie’s career, you either like his style or you don’t. I happen to like his style, so I found his take to be fun and spirited, much like his Sherlock Holmes films. However, if you’re looking for a strict adaptation of the King Arthur Legend, this isn’t the movie for you. The film kind of reminded me a bit of Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood—or as I like to call it, Robin Hood Begins—as this film focuses mainly on Arthur’s acceptance of the throne and doesn’t visit his later exploits. Also, Merlin is nowhere to be found in this film, which is odd. It is mentioned that he served Arthur’s father, but that’s about it. There is a lot of magic in this film, though, which distances it from Antoine Fuqua’s more grounded King Arthur from 2004. The action is also very well done and the characters are likable. Unfortunately, even though the film is just over two hours, we don’t learn much about those characters aside from surface level stuff. The only reason I can see why Vortigern does what he does—and he does some repugnant things in this film—is simply because he’s evil and mad with power. That’s fine, I guess, but since the film is so much about Arthur and his uncle and how they’re connected, I would have hoped Ritchie and his co-writers—Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram—would have given Vortigern a bit more depth. Also, another major problem with this film is The Mage. As I mentioned above, it’s ridiculous that she doesn’t even have a name as she’s a major supporting character. I think she was supposed to be Guinevere, but Ritchie may have thought that was a bridge too far or he’s saving that for a sequel that will never happen. So, by not giving her a name, the character is marginalized already, but the other major problem is that English clearly isn’t Bergès-Frisbey’s primary language and that’s a huge problem when she is a main source of exposition in this film. Her line readings are flat and, honestly, pretty grating. I didn’t feel her scenes were all that great. Also, I didn’t buy the potential love connection between her and Hunnam considering, as I mentioned, the majority of her scenes are exposition, but he learns nothing of her or at least not enough to fall in love with her. It’s kind of broached, but then forgotten.
The cast mostly does well with what they’re given. Hunnam is very good in the role of Arthur as it is written in this film. I think with his criminal and streetwise ways, Ritchie might have been trying to tap into Hunnam’s Sons of Anarchy roots. He’s a likable lead, but his inner turmoil doesn’t make for a terribly compelling film. It felt too stretched out and that it should have been resolved around the middle of the film, but alas. I really enjoyed Gillen as Goose Fat and it was nice to see him playing a hero after seeing him for the last several years as Littlefinger on Game of Thrones. Hounsou is always a welcome addition to any film and that’s no different here. However, the all-star of the film is easily Jude law as he chews the hell out of the scenery as Vortigern. He’s a great villain and pompous prick.
Overall, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a fun diversion, but not a terribly great film. It has its moments, but I wouldn’t spend the money to see it in the theater.