Almost ten years ago, director Guy Ritchie gave us his take on Sherlock Holmes, an iconic character that’s inspired countless adaptations, although there’s never really been a definitive version. The same can be about King Arthur. From Camelot, to The Sword in the Stone, to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there are a lot of great interpretations of the Arthurian legend. Richie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword isn’t one of them. Like so many other recent blockbusters, this is one of those movies that wants to paint a familiar face in a darker, more sophisticated light, but ultimately comes off as stale, lame, and everything but kingly.
This is one of those movies that wants to paint a familiar face in a darker, more sophisticated light, but ultimately comes off as stale, lame, and everything but kingly.
All modern fantasies have borrowed from the story of King Arthur in some way. The genre wouldn’t be what it is today without this timeless tale’s impact. Things have seemingly come full circle, as King Arthur: Legend of the Sword steals heavily from every popular fantasy of the past couple decades, including The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and Pirates of the Caribbean. It even rips off other rip-offs like Snow White and the Huntsman. Richie also throws in a hint of Gladiator, which technically wasn’t a fantasy, but was still about as historically accurate as 300.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword steals heavily from every popular fantasy of the past couple decades
Charlie Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy plays the titular king, who grows up in a brothel unaware of his royal heritage. Once Arthur pulls Excalibur from a stone, however, it becomes clear that he’s the rightful heir to the crown. This doesn’t sit well with the dastardly Vortigern (Jude Law), who murdered Arthur’s father so he could claim the throne for himself. Although Arthur is reluctant to accept his duties, he gets support from a mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) and Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou). Thus, Arthur is encouraged to avenge his father, reclaim his kingdom, and take his place in the circle of life. Yeah, it’s basically a retread of The Lion King, which already took a few pages from Hamlet.
Since the story is a knockoff, you’d think King Arthur: Legend of the Sword would at least give us something visually interesting to gawk at. While the sets and costumes aren’t poorly designed, they do look about as recycled as the screenplay. It doesn’t help that every scene comes complete with grimy cinematography, relentlessly intense music, and obvious green screen effects. Then there’s Ritchie’s trademark hyper editing, which can be effective in the right movie. Here, however, it’s just obnoxious, distracting, and subtle as a Michael Bay picture. Ritchie never allows his movie to play out naturally. As a result, we can rarely tell when a scene starts and when one ends.
The only saving grace the film has to offer is the ensemble. Hunnam is a charismatic lead, Law has fun as the villain, and Hounsou can do little wrong. Littlefinger himself, Aidan Gillen, scores a few memorable moments as well. Even some of the more awkward performers that probably have no business being in movies, i.e. David Beckham, are still fun to watch. Alas, the cast isn’t given much to work with, save the occasional witty one-liner. Since we don’t come to care about any of these characters, it’s difficult to get invested in the midst of all the CGI armies and sword slashing. In the end, you forgot about every scene after a minute goes by. The Arthurian legend may last forever, but it won’t take long for this film to fade into obscurity.