Film Review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Ham-fisted mish-mosh occasionally delivers the goods.
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There’s the odd moment in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword that really works. The villainous King Vortigern (Jude Law) cuts off someone’s ear and then talks into it. Evil mage Mordred is decked out in a full-face skull helmet that makes him look like an ’80s death-metal album cover come to life. The magical sword Excalibur emits a sonic boom, but only if you hold it a certain way—what is it, a Wii controller? These over-the-top “Wait, what?” stylings won’t appeal to everyone, but at least you can’t say the frequently adapted tale of King Arthur has ever been approached in this particular way before.

Unfortunately, then there’s the other 80% of the movie.

Guy Ritchie, who previously brought modern stylings to older stories with Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., is back to more of the same with this action-heavy take on the rise to power of the Once and Future King. It’s one part ’80s camp insanity, one part heist-movie fun and three parts generic fantasy. I’d rather have watched any one of those three movies than the two hours and six minutes of filmmaking soup that Ritchie concocted.

The primary cause of King Arthur’s mediocrity is that, in attempting to make three movies at once, Ritchie and co-writers Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram forgot about the small matter of crafting compelling characters. Arthur (Charlie Hunnam), here a streetwise orphan raised in a brothel, is the very picture of your boilerplate reluctant hero, only more petulant and unlikeable. Hunnam brings nothing to a nothing role. There’s no charisma. Jude Law fares only moderately better as Vortigern, the uncle who killed Arthur’s father and usurped his throne. A villain either needs to be complex or be played with scenery-gnashing intensity. Both are also acceptable. Vortigern is neither. He’s just…there, along with a heaping handful of unnecessary characters. Some of them die, but they’re too ill-defined to have gotten attached to, so who cares?

That said, in a movie so full of disparate elements, some of them are bound to hit. I’m A-OK with any movie where someone summons a gigantic snake, and Guy Ritchie knows his way around a chase scene. I’m also a fan of Daniel Pemberton’s high-energy, electropop-tinged score, mismatched with onscreen goings-on as it sometimes is. Hey, you need something to focus on when Charlie Hunnam’s being broody and boring. It’s not so much that King Arthur is a terrible movie as it is a disappointing one that needed to pick one thing and double down on it. I’d also recommend cutting down on flashbacks. I didn’t keep track of the exact count, but my estimation is that Ritchie included one approximately every 30 seconds. Some things never change.

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