King Arthur: Legend of the Sword proves there is a limit to director Guy Ritchie’s impressive and unique style.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword tells a new story of how the legendary King Arthur rose to the throne. Merlin is no longer present in Arthur’s journey, but somehow giant elephants are. After King Uther Pendragon’s (Eric Bana) death, a young Arthur flees Camelot to the streets of Londinium. Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) discovers his lineage through pulling the sword from the stone. He must decide whether he wants to face the villainous new King Vortigern (Jude Law) and claim his rightful place.
Unlike the TV series Merlin, which was a playful re-imagination of the King Arthur mythology, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is just a bastardization. There are many minor elements, that when added together, make a movie that is barely recognizable as Arthurian. It does borrow a few classical elements, but only enough to try to hide that they took liberty with everything else. The fate of Katie McGrath’s character (Morgana in Merlin, yet a character in this that is so inconsequential it is pointless to even name here) seems like an incredibly fitting metaphor for their disregard of Arthurian mythology.
A movie cannot be judged only by its divergence from its source material. However, even though this feels like it was written by someone too lazy to even Sparknote Le Morte d’Arthur, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword still feels completely unoriginal. This movie is essentially only an origin story, and it rehashes every possible iteration of a hero’s origin. Somehow, too much happens, and yet not enough.
There is no actual story in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. The first half is montages of them planning cut between them enacting the plan, and the second half is just a long sequence of connected action scenes. Planning montages can be great fun when used in moderation. The first couple of montages, planning and otherwise, are fun in this movie. However, instead of using these montages to assist the plot, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword uses these montages as the plot. These are done incredibly well, however, again thanks to Ritchie’s incredible style, but this is not enough substance for a whole movie. Meanwhile, Arthur faces too powerful of a villain that any future villains would seem too easy of a challenge or laughably extreme.
The action scenes, however, do suffer under Ritchie’s style. Although the slow motion action scenes in Sherlock Holmes were a device to show Sherlock’s thinking, the slow motion in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is just pointless. These quick edits and unique visual angles are reminiscent of Ritchie’s other work, but this movie banks entirely on this, so much so that it becomes overwhelming without any story to balance it out. Furthermore, the action scenes are hampered by the fact that many of the effects, especially those involving Vortigern, look like a bad video game.
Vortigern himself is just a weak villain. While he also is not a part of classic Arthurian mythology, he is a part of British history, which could have worked. Instead, Vortigern is basically a less interesting Scar. Even though Jude Law is an incredible actor, he has never been a convincing villain. Not in Rise of the Guardians and not in this. Admittedly, there was no depth to Vortigern to make him a strong villain, no matter who played him.
Charlie Hunnam however does give an impressive performance as Arthur. Arthur has no depth either, but at least he is fun to watch. Hunnam deftly switches between the tones in this, from the more serious beats, to the more fun and humorous ones. Arthur’s allies do not get too much to do, and they all kind of blend together, but all of them have great comedic chemistry together.
Despite its many flaws, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is not completely unwatchable. It is actually fairly entertaining, although not fulfilling. Arthurian mythology has a great amount of depth, while King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is just a façade of nice visuals. This is paired with dynamic music which brings enough energy to carry the movie. With the addition of sharp humor, this is a fun action movie.
It is also worth mentioning that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was vaguely misogynistic. Pretty much every female character is killed off, used as bait, or is a prostitute. Astrid Berges-Frisbey’s The Mage (who is probably set up to be Morgan le Fay) is the only female character that really does anything. Although her powers are cool, it feels a little cliché at this point that the female character only fights through magic. Not that Arthurian mythology was that great on female representation, but it is 2017 and they definitely could have thrown in a female knight.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword resembles Arthurian mythology so little that it really could be the same movie if it did not bear the name of King Arthur. It steals bits and pieces from Arthurian mythology, but also from every other movie, novel, and mythology that vaguely resembles a hero’s journey.
One of the most disappointing things about this movie, besides the movie itself, is that at this point there likely will not be a sequel. They had planned to make a handful of sequels, which could have been exciting because it could follow the Knights of the Round Table. Lancelot, Guinevere, Merlin, and Morgan le Fay have yet to be officially introduced, among others so there is plenty of story ahead. It would be a shame to lose this cast, but while this style is adequate to tell an origin story, it is not well suited for a more character driven story.