For its many, many faults, I feel compelled to celebrate King Arthur Legend of The Sword in how it handled its complicated task. More than 1000 years of history between the myth’s inception and the 2017 Guy Ritchie directed summer blockbuster mean that there is a lot required of the new take. It has to simultaneously reflect those old tales and what they meant to the people telling them, and also offer something new. Legend of the Sword does neither of these things, but doesn’t seem concerned with pretending to.
I applaud it instead for warning the audience out of the gate how the next two hours will go; opening with a storybook-style scrawl of text, the tone is set immediately. “Man and Mage once lived in harmony,” it explains. This is a useful piece of information, not because it contributes to the story (it doesn’t in the slightest) but because it is exactly as unoriginal and ridiculous as the rest of the movie. You know exactly what you are getting into.
If you didn’t before, it would not be by your own faults; the director, Guy Ritchie, has a long list of projects under his belt that have proven his worth. Snatch, a cult classic starring a then relatively unknown Jason Statham, is one particularly excellent example. More recently, Ritchie pieced together 2009’s Sherlock Holmes. A personal favourite, the film is electrically paced, well framed in time and coaxes spectacularly energetic performances from its leads.
This time around, Ritchie’s adaptation of a historic English folk-hero is measurably less successful.
The acting, while not especially terrible, was most certainly not up to ‘legend’ status. Charlie Hunnam takes on the titular role of Arthur, a castaway and forgotten son of a British royal family in a non-specific time, who has grown up in a brothel after watching his family die in a coup.
Hunnam fits the bill for “charming and ripped protagonist” well, but little else; while he is given little riveting dialogue to work with, and an overblown editing job strips the performance of anything natural, Hunnam offers equally little. He is likable and good for fight scenes, even if the fight scenes are not good for him; Ritchie’s editing style and creative decisions surrounding the mysterious and titular Sword Excalibur make most of the combat an incoherent blur, sometimes intentionally obscured in dust or off screen clanging of weapons.
Excalibur itself serves as more of a character than any of its co-stars; while it obviously does not talk and is not alive (if I had to guess, to the chagrin of the film’s director), it is well forged and looks great on screen, even if nothing else does.
Other than Charlie Hunnam shirtless.