Coming out this week is the latest twist in the Arthurian legend Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Starring Charlie Hunnam with Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Jude Law and Eric Bana King Arthur: Legend of the Sword tries to shine a fresh light on the much-adored legend. The tale of this Arthur is quite different from one’s that have come before. Having his family destroyed and throne usurped by his uncle Vortigern (Law) Arthur (Hunnam) is found by women of the night by the river Thames. Years pass and Vortigern’s reign is left unchecked until the unthinkable happens, Excalibur the legendary blade of the king reveals itself and sets the stage for the return of the one true king.
Guy Ritchie gives audiences a very different King Arthur. Gone is the spoilt but fun Arthur from the BBC’s Merlin, nowhere to be seen is the impish Wart from Disney’s Sword in the Stone because the Arthur Hunnam and Ritchie have created is a street smart brawler with a heart of gold who protects those under his care with blood drenched fists and a wry smile. Hunnam is admirable as Arthur, bringing a rugged charm to the iconic hero, but the material never gives him anything truly memorable to work with. He has some great action scenes, especially when he wields the mighty Excalibur, and he turns heads when he does the obligatory shirtless scenes but there is no emotional resonance with Hunnam’s performance and there needed to be to connect further with him through his many trials and tribulations throughout the film.
This brings me to one of the major issues with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, several sections of the adventure feel like they are in fast forward. A prime example of this is a journey Arthur has to take to “The Dark Lands” a mysterious realm which Arthur must conquer if he is to be ready to face his uncle who has amassed a large army and obtained mystical abilities through macabre means. This should have been a substantial portion of the film which tests Arthur to his limits. Instead, we are treated to a montage of Arthur trying his best not to die in the world’s worst field trip. This and several scenes like it fail to deliver due to a particular problem of Ritchies, he splices scenes together from different times during the film, and it is acceptable for the stylised energy it has the first time but this becomes jarring as Ritchie continues to use it over and over again to try and accelerate the pace of the film.
And the pacing of the movie is another issue which plagues King Arthur: Legend of the Sword because at times it moves at breakneck speed not allowing the audience to take in the haunting beauty of the monstrous forces in this film. Then it slows down to a crawl, and with the less than stellar screenplay, the lack of depth in the characters rears its ugly head. A great actor like Djimon Hounsou is given barely anything impactful to do in the film. He simply delivers exposition so that Hunnams Arthur knows which end of his sword goes into the bad guys. There are exceptions to this thankfully. Aidan Gillen turns in a fun performance as a Legolas style Bowman with an axe to grind against the current king. Not only that Jude Law is a commendable villain, and with a stronger script, he could have been even better, at one point he speaks on the allure of power when it is derived from fear, and it is genuinely fascinating. Sadly the potential built in the first two-thirds of the film is squandered in a less than innovative final battle which feels more like a boss battle from a video game than an epic clash between two legendary figures.
If there are any more positives I can take from King Arthur: Legend of the Sword it is the visuals and score of the film. There is a deep and thumping energy to King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, the best description I can give to it is something akin to a heartbeat as adrenaline is pumping through the body, and this is all thanks to the score. On top of that is a unique visual flair given to the mythical aspect of the film. Each creature is anomalous and sticks in your mind long after the credits roll. If only the story had as much detail and care put into it as the designs of these mythical elements Ritchie would be on to a winner.
Guy Ritchie has given cinemagoers a novel twist to the Arthurian legend with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. With stunning visuals, an epic score, a hero you cheer for and a villain you loathe this could have been a great film. Sadly lacklustre performances from the supporting cast, pacing issues, and jarring directing choices stop King Arthur: Legend of the Sword from being anything but a pretender to the throne.