“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” (2017)
Running Time: 126 minutes
Written & Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Featuring: Charlie Hunnam, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Jude Law and Eric Bana
King Arthur: “I’m not getting drawn into this mess! There’s an army of you, there’s only one of me! I’ll talk, I’m happy to talk. But there is NO WAY that I am fighting.”
Either Guy Ritchie is the perfect choice for yet another visit to the world of the Arthurian legend or he is the absolute worst – it really depends on which Ritchie shows up, and how well he treats the source material. I have never had a solid opinion on Ritchie’s work, he seems to either hit in a major way or completely miss the central idea of what he may have been after in any of his movies. This has widely chaotic results, he burst on the scene with the drug/heist film about four mates in “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998), which not only launched Ritchie, but also became a calling card for the inimitable Jason Statham, producer (who can also direct) Matthew Vaughn, as well as re-launching Dexter Fletcher (who is also a hell of a director in his own right). From there he has hit the highs with “Snatch” (2000), “Sherlock Holmes” (2009 – 2011), as well the lows “Revolver” (2005) and the much maligned “Swept Away” (2002). His last movie “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” (2015) failed to make an impression but I thought it was very good with strength in the casting; something Ritchie has always been able to mange extremely well in every single one of his movies.
This movie begins with the young Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) who runs the back streets of Londinium with his crew, unaware of his royal lineage until he draws the sword Excalibur from the stone. Instantly confronted by the sword’s influence, Arthur is forced to decide when to become involved with his power. Throwing in with the Resistance and an enigmatic young woman (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey), he must learn to master the sword, face down his demons, unite the people to defeat the tyrant Vortigern (Jude Law) — who murdered his parents and stole his crown — and become king.
This film has had a long trip to the big screen, it was delayed by at least a year, this being blamed on scheduling but I think it may have been because the tone was not found in its initial edit – something all of the trailers have yet to nail down. Was this going to be a blokey action movie or something more serious, akin to the legend we know? Was this going to be a departure from previous scattershot frenetically paced Ritchie films or more of a steady still camera action/drama? In my opinion it has a mixed tone which makes it very messy, the language is inconsistent, some of the actors are in a completely different film and the some of the huge special effects are messy and shaky to say the least.
The cast that has been assembled for this Arthurian outing is one you would expect to see in any Guy Ritchie movie with the addition of the American transplanted English television star (“Sons of Anarchy” (2008-2014)) Charlie Hunnam, who has yet to prove himself as a big screen presence. Hunnam you can tell really has given himself over to the role, which you have to if you are going to play a part that by its very nature is epic as well as having quite a large literary as well as cinematic history. What Ritchie has done is to give Hunnam some great supporting actors, starting with Eric Bana as his father, Uther Pendragon, who while not in the film much sets up the strong bloodline that Arthur has to follow. The antagonist of the movie is the always-underrated Jude Law as Vortigern who plays the usurper of the movie who wants to hold power and dominion over all. Rounding out the experienced cast is the reliable Djimon Hounsou playing one of the key figures, Bedivere, as well as “Game of Thrones” (2011 – present) actor Aidan Gillen as Bill – it is a shame Gillen has become primarily known for the role of Littlefinger as it disregards all the incredible work he has done over the past three decades. For me the highlight was relative newcomer Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, as the Mage that help Arthur figure out who he is as well as training him to wield the sword, Excalibur.
With a film set that is set in medieval Britain the look was always going to be a key component and Ritchie has wisely utilized John Mathieson as his cinematographer fresh off working with the director on “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” (2015) remake. Mathieson also brings all of the experience of working with Ridley Scott for years, in particular the look of “Gladiator” (2000) is used n this film to illustrate the grit and grime of the time period. Unfortunately as i have said the entire film is let down by shoddy effects work as well as some uneven set work. Not only that i found some of the costuming to be baffling, Hunnam at times looked like a World War II pilot shot down over France – it was very odd.
The last time I watched an Arthurian movie was the widely panned Antoine Fuqua film “King Arthur” (2004), which I have grown to quite like, with its odd cast that have all become massive in their own right. That film was pre-legend and involved Romans as well as Vikings, which was as historically accurate as any of the similar movies made. The last time I actually loved an Arthurian tale was the always rewatchable “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975) which serves as the ultimate touchstone to the legend – all the elements are there with some fine singing, dancing and ridiculous Frenchmen. If only this movie had some of the charm of those outings this would be a really enjoyable movie, but like Ritchie’s worse outings this one has very little charm so another missed opportunity for Arthur and his gang.
This was supposed to be the first of a few films but judging from the reaction and the box office that will not be happening, so we don’t have even half of the characters that should make an appearance, they were all apparently held back for possible sequels – which now just seems like poor decision making and planning on Ritchie and Warner’s part. The movie is full of the tropes you come to expect but this is added to with a ‘Lock Stock’ feel that seems out of place in what was to be an epic feel – Ritchie should have either made the ‘bloke who becomes King’ or a huge ‘Lord of the Rings’ type adventure, but not a mix of both.
If you like Hunnam or a blokey geezer film that looks like a cheap “Game of Thrones” rip off then this will be for you, otherwise maybe just watch “The Battle of the Bastards” again if you want a rough medieval feel.
“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is out now on DVD & Blu-ray.