Any film that ambitiously proclaims that it’s part of a 6-movie franchise before the first chapter has even been released is always treading on dicey ground, but there’s genuine potential to be found in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. It’s just a shame that some messy moments really deflect from the films core strengths once the end credits roll.
First off, if you’re not a Guy Ritchie fan then there’s nothing for you here. In many ways this is the most Guy Ritchie film he’s ever made because he’s taken Lock Stock and translated it to the lore of King Arthur. That in itself is bold, and for a brief moment, it actually works surprisingly well in delivering something different to the (round) table. In a similar way to what he did with Sherlock Holmes, Ritchie is trying something different here. It worked out brilliantly for the Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law franchise (so much so that a third Sherlock film has just been announced), but there’s some serious tweaking that’s needed if King Arthur wants to enjoy the same levels of success.
The start of the film is excellent – an epic battle sets up the central story well of Vortigern (a deliciously cruel Jude Law) betraying his brother the King (Eric Bana) to seize power for himself. The young child Arthur is sent away to safety and is raised by all of the women that work in a brothel in Londinium. And that’s where Guy Ritchie’s tropes come in very handy indeed. At this point, he ‘Lock Stocks’ it up with rapid cuts, flashbacks and montages that show the passage of time and the boy Arthur growing up into the man (Charlie Hunnam).
Arthur is a man of integrity and street-honour but lives amongst the thieves and chancers. Unbeknown to him, he is the true heir to the kingdom and he soon realises his destiny when he crosses paths with his Uncle’s army. Now forged with a new sense of purpose and his most trusted aides by his side, Arthur takes the fight to Vortigern to reclaim his land and free his people from his uncle’s tyrannical rule.
So far so good. The set up is fresh and compelling and the story is certainly told in a new way. Again, if you hate Ritchie’s style then you’ll hate the film. I liked his use of music and especially dialogue at the start. There’s a classic moment when Arthur and his friends are recounting a story to one of the King’s guards just like a bunch of cockney geezers in a pub. It’s actually entertaining. King Arthur purists will hate it but for sheer guile, it’s actually worth your time.
Now, had the film decided to play that line more carefully, it would have resulted in a much better movie-going experience. Instead, it convolutes itself with needless set-pieces that seriously derail the momentum of the story, it becomes lost in a sea of CGI and the plot crucially loses any immediacy – the pacing of which is something Ritchie films desperately need to thrive on. Left too long to dwell on things, King Arthur’s failings come easily into light.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is such a frustrating film because there’s so much potential here; it just needs to be given more purpose and direction. If they leave the messy middle act aside and concentrate on these characters more, then a sequel could be interesting. But not until these basic problems are addressed can we look at King Arthur: Legend of the Sword as anything other than a mediocre watch. And its biggest fail is making the key moment of the film (Arthur pulling the sword from the stone) almost completely redundant by overshadowing it with a needless cameo by David Beckham. A very poor mistake to make indeed. If you want a forgettable blockbuster that doesn’t leave a mark, this does the basics right.
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana, Aidan Gillen, Freddie Fox, Craig McGinlay, Tom Wu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Neil Maskell, Annabelle Wallis Director: Guy Ritchie Writer: Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram, David Dobkin, Joby Harold Released By: Warner Bros Certificate: 12A Duration: 126 mins Release Date: 19th May 2017