King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is an epic medieval fantasy based on classic Arthurian Legend directed by Guy Ritchie, starring Charlie Hunnam as King Arthur. The movie cost some 175 million dollars to make, a sizeable amount of which presumably had to go towards the rights to use Led Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You for it’s trailer. Of course, right out of the gate King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is being groomed for the modern multi-film franchise treatment.
That’s right, Warner Brothers wants to make six more of this movies! Clearly it has a lot of faith in it’s little movie, but studio faith and a huge marketing budget will only get you so far…
A sombre preamble opens up the story and the entire medieval fantasy world the film inhabits. The world has been consumed by darkness by the dark lord Mordred. The last bastion to stand against the darkness is CAMELOT.
And it is here you are reminded that Monty Python’s Holy Grail has probably ruined Arthurian Legend in cinema forever.
The film opens up with a massive battle sequence in which Camelot is besieged by a bunch of giant elephants. Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) saves Camelot and his kingdom from the foreign hordes with the help of the magic powers he gains by wielding his sword – Excalibur. As tricksy as dark lords of magic often are however, just as Mordred is killed, he warps into the body of Uther’s brother Vortigern (Jude Law). After the battle is won, Vortigern as Mordred (at least that’s what I think was happening, I may need to check Wikipedia on that) then plots against his brother in the night, forcing Uther to make a hasty retreat with his wife and son.
Wouldn’t you know it. Young Arthur watches as his parents are slain by dark forces before he sails off down river Moses style. Young Arthur is picked up in Londinium, where he is raised in poverty on the streets by a brothel. Luckily, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) picks up a number of enviable CV skills, pick pocketing people, roughing people up and generally talking his way out of conflict like a charismatic cockney rebel. When Arthur is called to lift a certain sword from the stone, his birthright becomes popular knowledge and suddenly he has a destiny, to reclaim his throne, banish all evil and basically claim his destiny as good King Arthur protector of all of Eng-er-land.
King Arthur COLON Legend of the Sword is a mixture of other much better historical epics and medieval fantasies. The whole look of the film, the dress up of England itself, looks very similar to Westeros in Game of Thrones. A number of familiar faces from the TV show appear throughout the movie. There is an element of Robin Hood in the way Arthur is brought up in poverty and seeks to start a nationwide rebellion by stealing from the rich. There are giant elephants like in Lord of the Rings, Mordred is basically this skull helmeted Sauron wannabe.
There is a bit of Gladiator and Spartacus of course, of a man rising from lowly standings to defeat the evil conqueror. Then you have Djimon Hounsou appearing in the film, first rising to prominence as Russell Crowe’s bossom buddy in Ridley Scott’s 2000 epic. Jude Law definitely has the softness of Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus but none of the perverted sense of entitlement that made that character so loathesome yet humanly fallible. Meanwhile Eric Bana is doing the same noble paternal shtick that was perhaps the one redeeming part of Troy. Actually no that’s unfair, Troy was legitimately great in a camp homo-erotic way.
Arguably the very nature of Arthurian myth and legend is invested in epic hero that have been told across the world for eons, so perhaps I should be kinder?
No, I don’t want to.
Since this is a Guy Ritchie movie, King Arthur does have a stylistic swagger to it that permeates through every single concept, the dialogue, the music, the look, and general composition. I liked Lock Stock and Snatch back in the day, and Ritchie’s two Sherlock Holmes movies benefited from having a similar sense of Victorian swagger. It is a winning formula, that does make the director popular with movie goers. It is stylish.
But where’s the substance?
This is a movie that feels like one long montage. You can use montages to effectively show the passage of time, to drill themes home, and at the beginning of King Arthur, we see how he grows up on the street and becomes the scallywag he is. But then you other scenes that explain ocean eleven style plots to thwart the forces of evil. It consists of characters literally standing around talking about what they are going to do and then shows them doing it. It’s as if the scriptwriters worked out what they were going to do, but rather than writing something they just used the notes they had and hammered Arthur and his cheeky chappies to act it all out. It moves so fast, there is no gravitas. It just happens, cause Arthur and the lads are like that.
Similarly there is a scene in which Arthur must go to the Dark Place, essentially an island where under hallucinatory magic he must complete a test of strength whilst avoiding all these scary creatures. It all looks amazing, Arthur scurrying around the bones of some deceased monstrosity, but it’s happening in amidst two other dimensions in time and space and it just feels very pedestrian. This is the scene where Luke Skywalker goes down into the hollow and has a weird fever dream in which he fights and beheads Vader. It’s katabasis, descent into the dark to reveal some frighening truth, but it kind of just hops, skips and jumps through like it’s no thing.
It’s like the stuff of legend is condensed into these small meaningless segments.
Bit weird innit!? What you been smoking guv!?
Quite often King Arthur movie does look brilliant, it was shot all over England, Wales and Scotland and the computer effects were clearly made with no expense spared. It has a very contemporary feel in the makeup of it’s cast, they’re all dressed in cool medieval threads that will probably become all the rage in future Brexit Britain.
Again, this being a Guy Ritchie movie means that this is a very musical movie. King Arthur is imbued with gypsy punk and folk songs emphasised with hefty Han Zimmer orchestras. There is also constant use of heavy breathing in the soundtrack, which I guess is used to amplify the scenes of all the male characters running and exerting themselves.
I’m not quite sure it works, it sounded either like some man was running with a stitch, or furiously masturbating building himself to climax. This has an effect on the action as it takes place, there is this hurried overbearing pace to it, a sensory overload that leads to all drama being lost within the many edits and shaky handheld camerawork. It’s enough to make you queasy from motion sickness. Then comes the climax moment, and suddenly your kind of left in space just feeling a little sorry for yourself. Was that it? I’m better than this…
All the players of King Arthur. Charlie Hunnam is likeable as King Arthur, if you go for that kind of sly cockney wide boy shtick. Personally, I can’t help but feel he’s a lower budget Tom Hardy and I would of liked to see Arthur feel a little bit more, get legitimately angry about the injustice around him. In the end, we’ve seen him do a good job at managing a whore house, which I guess contains all the transferable skills he needs to rule England? He’s a proper lad though isn’t he! Course he can do anything with his cheeky mates!
Jude Law gets to ham it up as the villain, and does it quite effectively. One scene has him casting a hand over a crowd of people who all kneel before him. All the while he has this regal coldness to him, which just made me want to clap. Congratulations Jude Law, once you were a sexy sexy heart throb but now you have unlocked the ability to play a real prick. Although let’s be honest, Young Pope is still fresh in my mind.
The rest of Arthur’s cheeky comrades are fairly one note, they are there to provide the Guy Ritchie banter, rebel against authority. “I don’t know what goose you been sniffing mate” they claim to Roose Bolton’s police chief. Djimon Hounsou is Sir Bedivere and is mostly there to be the voice of reason to maintain Arthur down his path. Aiden Gillen plays Bill and still has one of the greatest voices in the biz, though again there is nothing too memorable about the character like there is with Littlefinger in Game of Thrones.
As the movie goes down into it’s third act, with a big battle sequence, the film really starts to lose the plot. There is a giant snake, which seemingly comes out of nowhere at the best possible time. Symbolically, I guess it’s supposed to show that Arthur has conquered corruption or something. That’s what snakes usually mean don’t they. That and penises or something.
From there, the film becomes a video game in the worst way possible. I’ve played plenty of hack and slashers in my time, and when Arthur wields Excalibur it’s as if he’s literally clicking in the two joysticks to unleash the slow motion sword rage mode, which suddenly makes him invincible. In a game, this is a brief moment of empowerment but watching it happen doesn’t have the same effect. Has Arthur really earned this power? The final battle with Mordred feels like a Mortal Kombat fight without the gruesome fatality at the end. I love video games when I get to play them, but watching such meaningless display of magic power in this movie just feels so dull and blase.
Again the guy masturbating in the soundtrack is probably having a great time.
“Come on Arthur, son, fuck ’em up!”
Apparently there is a 3 hour cut of the movie. I can’ help but feel they’ll be saving that for the extended blu-ray release as they’ve done with Batman Vs Superman and Suicide Squad, two other train wrecks of movie that are not improved with more footage…
The final thing to say about King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is that it suffers from the plague that has blighted other big tent pole movie releases, desperately attempting to be the founding stone of a multi-film franchise. I could not watch this movie without a sense of cynicism surrounding everything that was clearly being built up for the next movie. Certain elements of Arthurian legend, the real good stuff, is clearly being held back for the 2nd and 3rd movie – Merlin, Guinevere, Gallahad, Gawain, Lancelot, the Holy Grail, Tim the enchanter.
This wouldn’t be a problem if Legend of the Sword could stand on it’s own two feet and justify it’s own existence by telling a rollicking story with a host of likeable characters. There is nothing here that would make me want to see another one of these movies.
Unless Vinnie Jones turns out to be Merlin. You Pene-arse.
On second thought, let’s not go to Camelot. ‘Tis a silly place.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is probably the Arthurian story Britain deserves right now. None of it makes any sense. It’s a complete and utter mess, with lofty ambitions of a lucrative financial future of endless sequels. Despite the considerable cost of production, the butter is spread too thinly. I feel strongly that this more common take on Arthurian Legend, where the king literally rises from the streets could be made with less money and more fire in it’s loins. Cinema will forever go back to Arthurian myth and legend to tell stories of the Knights of the Round Table but for now Guy Ritchie’s take fails on so many levels.
Never have we felt so far away from Avalon.