At some point, the English literary world is going to be fed up with Guy Ritchie. He’s already annihilated Sherlock Holmes and now, he’s moved on to another beloved English myth and applied his hyperkinetic, overly stylized approach to the legend of King Arthur. His “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” isn’t a disaster and is actually quite fun at certain points, but the phrase “loosely based” is an understatement.
Sure, there’s Arthur (Charlie Hunnam), son of King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), who is forced into exile by the reign of his evil uncle, Vortigern (Jude Law). There’s the obligatory moment when Arthur pulls Excalibur from the stone and the following battle for the throne at Camelot. However, Ritchie’s Arthur is raised on the streets of Londinium, where he hustles for gold and protects a brothel full of ladies that raised him. That’s not even something the guys in Monty Python would have tried to pull off.
Ritchie is at his best when relaying information quickly, which he does in an extremely clever and well-crafted way while filling you in on Arthur’s upbringing. While Arthur grows up, Vortigern rounds up males that would fit the age of Arthur and makes them try to pull Excalibur from the stone so he can then murder the true King of England and keep the throne.
To that point, Ritchie and his co-screenwriters Lionel Wigram and Joby Harold have put an interesting little spin on a tale that’s been told countless times. Once Arthur gets his hands on the sword and teams up with Uther loyalists Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and Goosefat Bill (Aiden Gillen), “King Arthur” loses all of its originality. It becomes a slog of sped-up action and dizzying camera angles that would make Zack Snyder’s head spin.
The plot kicker is what Ritchie and Company have done to Guinevere (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). Not only is there no love triangle (in fact, there’s no Lancelot), they’ve made Guinevere a mage, which is some sort of magician that could cause the braintrust of “Game of Thrones” to sue for intellectual property theft. She summons up animals to help out our heroes when needed, so why can’t she just tell an army of snakes to kill the evil King Vortigern?
It’s virtually impossible to follow along some of the fight scenes. The first time that Arthur wields the power of Excalibur should be a massive turning point in the movie, but Ritchie chooses to mask all the fun with dust, dirt, and camera shots that spin around as if they were filmed with a Go Pro attached to a cat strung out on catnip.
If “King Arthur” performs well, Warner Brothers has already announced that there could be up to six movies in this series. That does bode well for Charlie Hunnam, who is actually quite good as Arthur. There’s no stirring speeches, which is a relief, and Hunnam combines street-smart punk characteristics with nobility in a very believable way. It’s easily the best he’s been on the big screen and could potentially be the box office hit that makes him a massive star.
The supporting actors are fine, even if this is yet another boring action sidekick role for the immensely talented Djimon Hounsou. Eric Bana is wasted in what is little more than ten minutes of screen time, which has become far too common for him. However, it is pretty cool to see Aiden Gillen, so easily identified as the slimy Littlefinger from “Game of Thrones”, be a good guy for once.
Jude Law doesn’t chew up all the scenery, but he comes close. There are a few moments when he’s menacing, but he mostly gives off the impression that one French taunting would chase him away from the castle. If anything, Law has mastered the art of lazily sitting on a throne to imply how evil he is.
The odd thing about “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is that it isn’t awful. It’s just simply…there. It’s just that the whole thing is so brain dead and pointless. There’s never an inkling of suspense because we all know how it’s going to end. Guy Ritchie has essentially mastered the art of making B-movies entertaining, yet forgettable mere moments after seeing them.