MOVIE REVIEW: ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ never meshes into anything worth noting

There are admirable elements about Guy Ritchie's swords-and-sorcery epic, but nothing comes together to make anything cohesive or memorable

| May 10, 2017

If you were to listen to common complaints of many medieval-era films, you would come to believe that the “Lord of The Rings” series was the first and only movie to ever do it right, given how much people love to compare every movie with a sword to the Peter Jackson trilogy. In fact, it’s been quite some time since we’ve truly gotten a film like this due to this comparison that kills many of these films. Still, it’s hard to ignore when Guy Ritchie returns to the screen, even in his lesser work. His last film, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” proved to be a fun, harmless exercise in style, but “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” looks to be Ritchie’s first true epic. The story of the sword and the stone is one as old as time, but the promise of Ritchie’s trademark style branded onto this story just seems incredibly exciting.

And it is, for about 20 minutes.

Arthur Pendragon (Charlie Hunnam) is a street hustler on the streets of 5th century London (called Londinium at this point in history). Living in a brothel where he was raised, Arthur makes his living hustling and intimidating others for money. When a sword in a stone reveals itself from the waters by the castle, the cruel King Vortigern (Jude Law) calls every citizen to the castle after learning that whomever shall pull the sword from the stone is the born king of England. When Arthur pulls the sword from the stone and escapes the hold of the king with the help of Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and an unnamed mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), he becomes the center of a manhunt by the king’s men, while Arthur and his team plan to take Vortigern down themselves.

Unlike “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” this film features much more of the typical Ritchie style of filmmaking, with quick cuts, fast-talking, snarky dialogue and a certain frenetic energy that only can be found in a Ritchie film. Yet, the problem here is that this style doesn’t particularly match the content of the story very well, making “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” feel a bit off from the start. In fact, most things in this film don’t particularly mesh well with each other, even if these elements are admirable on their own.

Hunnam is okay as Arthur, but when I imagine King Arthur, I imagine someone much less intimidating from the get go, making his rise to royalty all the more effective narratively. Hunnam feels a bit too rough-and-tumble from the start to make it exceedingly easy to root for him. Hunnam’s accent also finds itself floating all over the place, ranging from Cockney to high British to American all within the same sentence sometimes. Law makes for a good villain, even if Vortigern is your typical mean king archetype without much deviation from the format. Law seems to be having a ton of fun with the role, which really is all that matters here. Meanwhile, supporting actors like Hounsou and Bergès-Frisbey are more miscast than anything. There’s nothing particularly wrong with their performances, but I just kept imagining other actors in their roles doing better work (I would’ve killed to have seen Léa Seydoux or Adèle Exarchopolous in the role of The Mage).

“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is also all over the place when it comes to its tones. While the film uses Ritchie’s trademark writing style, his visual style doesn’t match up very well, with a much darker and grimmer looking film than its dialogue might imply. Even with this, the film also is edited like a “Transformers” movie, with cuts every second or so to make the film feel quick and exciting, but with the visual style of the film, ends up feeling rushed and disjointed. With this editing, it’s often hard to know what’s actually going on thematically. The film will often go into quick-cut montages in scenes that should probably have more explanation to them. “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” expects its audience to connect things visually, rather than thematically, which would work in a film with less mythos than this one, but nor here. Here, it feels like Ritchie had no idea to do with the material.

There are things that this film does do well, though. While the visual style doesn’t match the writing style, it still is an attractive film when you have enough time to focus on a shot. It’s a very dark film, but one that looks nice nonetheless. The score of the film, composed by Daniel Pemberton, is rousing and exciting, making it one of the few things in here that works consistently throughout. It’s not a typical score by any means, but it finds a nice balance between Ritchie’s writing and visuals into something that actually feels cohesive.

Being released in 3D, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” uses the format relatively well in the final act of the film, utilizing a lot of “in your face tactics that seem relatively absent from many 3D films of late, making it avery fun experience. Beyond that, the film doesn’t do an insane amount with depth, if only because the film is so dark that it’s often too dim to be able to make out much of what needs to be extracted from depth. It takes a while to get used to such a dark film being darkened even further by 3D glasses, but it surprisingly works well enough to recommend the format for the finale alone.

“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” isn’t a bad film by any means, it’s just a film that feels like four different films combined into one. The acting is fine, if inconsistent. And while the film is attractive, it just can’t seem to get past its awkward clash of tones (including a very awkwardly placed, unnecessary opening credits sequence) and mish-mash editing that gave me a headache. It’s a hard balance to find, but Ritchie has done it before in other films like “Sherlock Holmes” and done it very well. The worst part about “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is that it’s simply unmemorable (aside from its use of 3D, however dark it may have been), and with the cast, crew and classic story being used here, that’s pretty unforgivable.

2.5/5

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aiden Gillen, with Jude Law, and Eric Bana.
Runtime: 126 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language.
Also available in RealD 3D.

Warner Bros. Pictures presents, in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, a Safehouse Pictures/Weed Road production, a Ritchie/Wigram production, a Guy Ritchie film, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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