King Arthur is one of the most iconic parts of Britsh culture. Stories about him, Merlin, The Knights of the Round Table as well as Mordred and Morgan Le Fey have been told countless times by countless people. Their tales of a more mystical time have been preserved and passed down to us today. Director Guy Ritchie, most famous for his British Gangster films and Sherlock Holmes Movies, steps up to try his hands at a reimagining of the Arthurian Legend. Will King Arthur: Legend of the Sword join the pantheon of great tales, or does it deserve to be thrown into a lake to be forgotten forever.
Vortigern, the brother of King Uther Pendragon, seeks his brother’s crown. Conspiring with Mordred and a Sea Witch, he takes the throne in a violent coup, killing Uther and his wife. However, Uther’s son survives and is found by prostitutes who raise him on the streets. When he is captured by Vortigern’s men, for a petty crime, he like any other male his age must try to pull Uther’s Sword, Excaliber, from a stone. The blade will change Arther’s destiny and mark him as the true-born king of England.
I will say this for Guy Ritchie; he certainly has flair; though it is clearly obvious that he has too much of it for his own good. The film is brimming with flashy camera movements, quick, punchy editing and a certain swagger that can only be from a man once lauded as one of the best British crime directors.
Despite this flashy style, King Arthur feels empty and unoriginal. The movie relies too heavily on strange camera moves, confusing editing and a story that whooshes by so quickly that you will blink and miss it. This wouldn’t be so bad if the film had a few brief moments of contemplation, but it never truly slows down. Each part of the movie is treated as equally important and epic, which leaves audiences with a series of cool looking elements but a mess of a film.
King Arthur offers nothing beyond these obnoxious stylistic choices; no well-paced story, no memorable design choices, no satisfying character arch, rather no one changes at all, least of all Arthur. What it does offer is a strange game of spot the influence, with costumes from Game of Thrones, plot borrowed from the Lion King and big elephants from Lord of the Rings.
The final nail in the coffin of this style-over-substance adaptation is the subpar performances. While Neil Maskell does a fine job as Back Lack and Jude Law hams about Camelot as Vortigern, Charlie Hunnam is uninspiring as King Arthur while Astrid Berges-Frisbey looks as though she is suffering from a bad cold through the entire film. Just as the excessive slow motion and weird postproduction camera movements are distracting, Ritchie has seen to pepper in some high world breaking cameos, with appearances from himself and everyone’s favourite high pitched footballer turned model, David Beckham.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was to be part of a series of films, but bad box office may have put those plans in the dirt and I can see why; there is no meat to this film, it is all shallow tricks rather than compelling story or character. If taken as separate elements I can kind-of-sort-of enjoy it, but taken together King Arthur becomes a cake with too much frosting. Those coming for an accurate retelling of the King Arthur legend better turn back now. Those looking for historical accuracy better look elsewhere. Those looking for a decent film better luck next time.
You can watch King Arthur – Legend of the Sword in Cinemas now