I’ve never read a single King Arthur story, nor do I recall ever watching a King Arthur film, though I am aware of the more famous elements of those stories such as The Roundtable, the Lady of the Lake, Merlin, and Excalibur. That is quite literally a summation of my knowledge on the subject, so I feel as though myself and Guy Ritchie are on the same page in this respect. ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ is very much a Guy Ritchie take on a medieval story, complete with cockney accents. Think more ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ and less Game of Thrones, despite a few cast members making appearences.
The film does initially work, and has a solid and entertaining first act. However, as the film progresses the narrative splits into two quite different films, with compelling and engaging Jude Law as Vortigern, taking an almost Shakespearean form, while Charlie Hunnam, with his dazzling white teeth, as Arthur, explores the path of the reluctant hero which is suprsingly dull at times.
We encounter Arthur as a child following the death of his father, and immediately we experience a montage of Arthur growing up in a medieval version of Fight Club. It’s a fast-paced, fun and rhythmic opening to Arthur’s character, one that engages and energies us. It’s quickly followed by a second back and forth scene as Arthur is questioned by law enforcement and is asked to recount his day. It’s a sharply edited piece of fast dialogue, but one that sadly isn’t quite captured by Hunnam, though he does perform a fine attempt.
As with most directors, each has their own stylistic choices, whether it’s lens flare (Sorry J.J. Abrams), or gallons of blood shooting in every conceivable direction (One guess who I am reffering to here). These aforementioned scenes of Ritchie’s are examples of his ability to direct on a technical level. They are what we most commonly associate Ritchie with and though there are more of these scenes, where this film falls short are the moments in between, the moments where Ritchie’s inability to engage during the quieter moments exposes a weak and underdeveloped narrative.
If you approached this film as a fan of the King Arthur stories, then I would imagine you are sorely disappointed, because although the film does touch upon some basic King Arthur mythology, it rarely develops or explains anything. So, we must take almost everything at face value as a popcorn shoveling blockbuster, rather than an exploration of anything particulary interesting. I don’t have a problem with this approach if the narrative you do choose to tell us is engaging, but sadly this is not the case for the most part, or at least not past the first act.
Despite this being a very Guy Ritchie film, there are oddly several strong similarities with other films such as Harry Potter, and Macbeth, something I was not expecting as a Ritchie film in the past has very much been its own vehicle. These similarities are evidenced through fevered dream sequences in which dark figures with eerily silky yet inviting voices trouble Arthur as he sleeps, or scenes in which Vortigern deals with the mysterious octopus ladies in the water at the bottom of his tower, again reminiscent of the asthetic in Harry Potter and of the three witches in Macbeth.
Charlie Hunnam is a very good actor, I know this because I watched him play the protagonist in 8 seasons of Sons of Anarchy. A show where Hunnam displayed an extraordinary range of human emotion, indeed his primal screams, emotional breakdowns, and intense looks will forever stay with me. So, it’s frustrating for me to watch someone who I know can deliver, become encumbered by a script that clearly needed more work as there is a lack of fluidity in scenes which are clearly supposed to be cockney, but instead just sound daft, “Sugar tits”, really?
To the film’s credit, it delivers a final confrontation scene that does, in part, move away from the collage of colour we have come to expect from supernatural/superhero final encounters, with each player clearly identifiable.
OVERALL ** The film ultimately suffers from treating this like an origin story, but one that hints at King Arthur material rather than investigating anything. It uses a plot that unless aided by impressive action sequences and montages is placed in the spotlight and its awkward script and poor narrative are horribly exposed. It’s just unfortunately quite forgettable, baring the first act.
RECOMMENDATION – Each one of these actors and its director have much better films/TV Shows that will entertain, engage and thrill you, I would go for one of those instead.