'King Arthur' abandons the legends, offers kinetic roller coast ride instead
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
3.5 out of 5 Stars
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writers: Joby Harold, Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram, David Dobin
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Jude Law
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language
Synopsis: Orphaned as a small boy and raised in a brothel, Arthur discovers his true lineage and rises up against Vortigern, his evil uncle.
Review: If you’ve seen either of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films you know that he has an unconventional approach to telling stories, regardless of their literary origins. With “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” it is clear from the very first scene that Ritchie has little interest in sticking to medieval histories and that he and his numerous co-writers are intent on telling a story pieced together from other sources.
If you’re expecting a King Arthur film from a film called “King Arthur” you’re going to be completely blindsided. However, if you are expecting a “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” film without the camp of the cartoon or the original live-action film, then “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is exactly the film you think it is. We might never see a better He-Man film, even though they’ve been trying to make a new live-action version for years. That’s doubly true if McG is still attached as the film’s director. McG isn’t half the filmmaker that Guy Ritchie is.
I’m not going to try and convince you that “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is a great film, but it is a film that has great moments. Jude Law is fantastic as Vortigern, the deliciously evil ruler. He chews the scenery until there’s nothing left to chew. And what beautiful, albeit dreary, scenery. Charlie Hunnam isn’t nearly as good, his performance in “The Lost City of Z” is far better, but he is at least serviceable as our protagonist. Even if he fails to find the king-like stature that Viggo Mortensen brought to Aragorn in “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”
Ritchie’s style, which tends to work in extremes as it speeds up and slows down time, goes against almost every rule on how to make a historical fantasy. In theory it shouldn’t work and there were plenty of times when the audience laughed at some of the stylistic choices, not because they didn’t work, but because they went completely against expectations.
The childhood to adulthood of Arthur is handled in an impressive montage. He condenses what could have been an entire film in itself into something that doesn’t last much longer than ten or fifteen minutes. It’s reckless, but it gets the job done and moves the story on to where the real drama is. I imagine the younger actors who play Arthur as a child and teen weren’t too happy to see their days of filming essentially thrown through a blender set on high, but it propels the story forward in a way that matches the kinetic energy of the rest of the film.
Yes, some of the dialogue is terrible, but no one really seems to be taking themselves too seriously so the audience shouldn’t either. In the end “King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword” is more entertaining than, good, but boy is it entertaining.