King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros. Pictures
Directed by Guy Ritchie
I don’t know about you, but the definitive King Arthur movie was already made by Monty Python in 1975, so unless Charlie Hunnam is gonna be fetching shrubberies for the Knights who say Ni I’m gonna have a hard time taking this movie seriously! Okay, so clearly we’re not gonna get a movie as good as Holy Grail (which admittedly is an impossibly high bar to set), but I did like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. well enough which was Ritchie’s last film, and while I never got around to seeing the Sherlock Holmes movies I hear they’re solid as big budgeted adaptations that favors style over substance, even if they did get overshadowed by the BBC show once that became a hit. The point is, we haven’t had a good King Arthur movie in quite a while and Ritchie is usually reliably competent with this kind of bigger than life myth making material, so maybe he’ll have a chance of clearing that very low bar set by the likes of Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur movie and A Kid in King Arthur’s Court. Can this movie manage to at least be better than those? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins long before Arthur becomes king; namely when his dad Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) was ruling shit and killing dark wizards! It’s just too bad that the guy had to have a brother because as we all know, the only purpose they serve in medieval stories is to kill the current king and assume the throne! That’s just what Vortigern (Jude Law) does here, but little Arthur just barely manages to escape after being drifted down a river on a small boat (I think we’re mixing our mythologies here). He’s found in a nearby village, grows up in a brothel, and turns into Sexy Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) who for some reason has no idea that he’s ACTUALLY the rightful king of… wherever the heck they are. They keep referring to it is as Londinum, so I guess it’ll become Camelot in the sequel. ANYWAY! You can’t keep a hero from fulfilling his destiny, and he manages to pull the sword from the stone (similar to how Link pulls the Master Sword out of the Temple of Time) which gets everyone under Vortigern’s thumb hunting his chiseled ass down so they can finally kill the Born King once and for all! Along the way, Arthur teams up with a mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) who is NOT Merlin but close enough, Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) who replaces Terry Jones’s mustache with a goatee, and several others; some of whom are from the original stories and other who are clearly not. Can this rag tag group of Merry Men… I mean Honorable Knights, take down the deceitful king once and for all? Will Arthur face his responsibilities and destiny with grace and composure, or will he first have to run away from them like any good Joseph Campbell hero? Did anyone proof read this script before shooting it, or was everyone on board with the giant elephants, anachronistic dialogue, and the random excursion to Monster Island?
What a disappointing and frustrating mess this turned out to be. Admittedly I didn’t have much hope going into this considering how the trailers looked and the less than stellar word of mouth, but it’s not like there’s anything about this movie that made me WANT it to fail. Arthurian Legends? Sure! I may not be an expert, but that material is ripe for a big budget adaptation! Guy Richie? Eh… he’s fine I guess. I certainly don’t have a grudge against him like say Adam Sandler or even Michael Bay to a certain extent. Heck, I even like Charlie Hunnam who’s been working his ass off to be a leading man in these GIGANTIC popcorn flicks but just hasn’t been able to take off yet like his twin brother Chris Hemsworth did! I just can’t figure out how ANYTHING that I saw on that damn screen ended up in this movie or even how someone looked at the final product and thought it was ready to put in theaters. Now this isn’t Gods of Egypt bad which is probably the closest point of reference for this over budgeted and haphazardly cobbled together monstrosity, but it fails on such fundamental levels that whatever good points there are end up buried under the weight of everything else around it. This is the kind of movie that can ONLY be ruined by a massive budget and a high profile director as doing something much simpler and closer to the Arthurian mythos wouldn’t have been that difficult but wouldn’t have had that extra GUY RITCHIE and WARNER BROS flavor to it, so instead they made something extremely ambitious and did so without a lick of common sense.
There are a lot of problems with this movie, but the big one that pretty much every other issue stems from is its editing; both in terms of shot to shot editing and scene to scene. Shot to shot is fairly straightforward as Guy Ritchie likes to teleport characters from here to there to wherever else in the middle of action scenes (there’s a particularly egregious moment where a character is held hostage without any indication of how they were caught or when as we JUST saw them do something thirty seconds prior), but the scene to scene editing where the movie has to establish a sense of flow or continuity? HOLY SHIT! This is one of the most bafflingly edited films I have ever had the misfortune to come across as NOTHING in this movie makes sense or is adequately explained. The fifteen minute prologue is a gloomy pastiche of nonsense where no one is given a name, nothing about this world is explained (apparently magic users are a different race?), and we aren’t even sure if what we’re seeing is in chronological order. It gets a bit better from there as the first third of this movie is about Arthur bumming around Londinium (apparently that was an ACTUAL place and not something they made up for the movie) which works because these scenes don’t require a lot of plot and allow Guy Ritchie to do his magic which only helps to show off Charlie Hunnan’s acting chops, but eventually the story HAS to move forward and everything falls to pieces right at the start of the second act.
Every five minutes of this movie, I was asking myself what the hell was going on. Now I can’t just sit here and type out EVERY SINGLE QUESTION I had about the plot (it would be redundant and full of spoilers), but the fact is that there’s no sense of flow from scene to scene and the directions the story go in are ludicrous and barely follow with the events we’ve seen up to that point; not to mention the utterly USELESS story points and subplots that are peppered throughout this. There is seriously a part of this movie where Arthur goes to ANOTHER DIMENSION TO FIGHT GIANT ANIMALS, and it’s easily the most useless and poorly thought out aspect of this movie. Not only do we ONLY see this alternate universe in a freaking montage that doesn’t explain shit about it, he doesn’t even learn what he’s supposed to learn there! It’s essentially the big test that every hero has to face as part of his Hero’s Journey (Luke Skywalker in the cave, Jesus in the desert, Neo jumping the building), and while to a certain extent they CAN be seen as the first big failure for the hero, the movie doesn’t take a damn moment to catch its breath and even tell us that THAT is what happened! For all we know, he DID succeed in his quest in the other dimension (I can’t believe I written those words TWICE in a King Arthur review) and the only indication that he DIDN’T is like half an hour later when ALL OF A SUDDEN he’s filled with doubt again about the exact same thing he went to the other dimension to conquer! Remember that when Neo failed to jump the building that that was a moment reflecting the others in the crew as much as it did his abilities to be the one (Trinity says that everyone fails the first jump; confirming to the audience that her faith in him is unwavering). If they had bothered to even give us THAT much afterwards then the scene could have served the TINIEST bit of a purpose. Instead, it’s just another plot cul-de-sac that we can’t even properly enjoy because of how meaningless it ultimately is.
Now as much as the second act is utter nonsense, I will say that the third act does pick things up a bit. Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s just as unbearably confusing and inexplicable as the other two acts, but this is the point where they pull out ALL the stops and give you what you’d hope that a big budgeted King Arthur movie would deliver on. The action throughout the movie was just fine, but in the third act it’s even better with a standout sequence that mixes Guy Richie slow-mo money shots with some REALLY impressive camera work, and there’s even a big fight scene with a giant demon. Yes… this movie has a fight scene with a giant demon, though it’s actually one of the few plot points in the movie that has a sense of follow-through and continuity in the story if you can believe it. It’s not perfect, and I’m VERY hesitant to even say that it’s great, but if we’re gonna have to sit through a two hour movie that’s THIS stupid, at least they managed to find a way to have FUN with the stupidity towards the end. Unfortunately the enjoyment can only go so far because we still aren’t given a reason to care about anything that’s going on, but it does at least look nice.
Since we’re on the topic of what works (at least somewhat), I think this is a very solid cast for this kind of movie. Charlie Hunnam might not be up to Chris Hemsworth levels of Charisma, but he’s just unknown enough as an actor that he’s much more able to slip into this role than someone who’s much more recognizable would be able to do. Jude Law as well is TRYING so hard in this movie to be both menacing and repulsive which I GUESS works in this movie, but then he’s given nothing to work with in the script as he’s entirely one note to a frankly cartoonish degree which makes it hard to take anything he does seriously. Then again, it’s not like he’s the ONLY one trying to work around such an impossibly awful script, but he gets the worst by far. Honestly, if they just took another pass at the script and hired a competent screenwriter, this COULD have been fairly decent. Sure, it STILL would have been too self-serious and probably overly convoluted, but a cast this talented could have overcome those kinds of shortcomings and have made something out of this. Instead, they got stuck with a script that even Chris Evans couldn’t act his way out of which is a statement I do NOT make lightly!
There are some movies that I get a sense of satisfaction for tearing to shreds like a shitty horror movie, a bloated and wrong-headed DC adaptation, or even a freaking propaganda piece. This though? I get no satisfaction for telling you that it’s a piece of garbage. This had all the resources it could ever need to become a good King Arthur movie, but there was no one there to rein things in and everything from the script and characters to the editing and pacing are left in shambles because of it. Definitely do not go see this in theaters and I wouldn’t even recommend seeing it when it gets a home release. There’s just nothing there for anyone other than those who are dazzled by pretty effects, and even THOSE people might not appreciate how murky and somber the cinematography is in this. Guy Ritchie tried to pull the sword out of this stone, but all he got for his trouble is an incoherent mess and probably a dislocated shoulder.