Mark Reviews Movies

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Guy Ritchie

Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Eric Bana, Freddie Fox, Craig McGinlay, Tom Wu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Neil Maskell, Annabelle Wallis

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language)

Running Time: 2:06

Release Date: 5/12/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 11, 2017

We don't really need an origin story for King Arthur, do we? That question is the primary challenge that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword must meet and overcome. What else can be said of Arthur, the king of legend? What other angle can be taken on the character? Guy Ritchie's take is a story before Arthur's rein at Camelot, before the Round Table and its storied knights, before the mythical quests and mystical conflicts, and, to be frank, before the fabled king does anything interesting.

This Arthur, played by Charlie Hunnam, is an orphaned prince, raised in a brothel and taught the ways of the street. He's a bullied kid who learns how to fight, a poor boy who becomes a thief to obtain the means of escaping Londinium, and a young man who learns the basics of the code of chivalry by way of wanting to protect the working women who raised him. There's the potential for an intriguing origin story in these beats, and it should tell you how impatient the screenplay (by Joby Harold, Ritchie, and Lionel Wigram) is when you learn that the entirety of that tale is told in fast-forward. The movie wants a more down-to-earth Arthur, but it doesn't do the work to give us one.

Instead, the screenwriters want to get to the familiar concepts of the Arthurian legend—or as many as they can fit in within the context of a pre-monarch Arthur. The actual story here is a generic sword-and-sorcery tale about a hesitant hero and his various sidekicks facing off against an evil villain and his assorted henchmen.

The movie's hero could have been anyone other than Arthur, and the central points would remain. They might have had to remove the concepts of the sword stuck in a stone and a nymph-like presence in the water, simply because those two elements are so associated with the legendary king. That's about it, though. In other words, the screenplay rushes through the un-Arthur-like material to get to a plot that rarely feels like an Arthur story.

The prologue, which—even after it's related in the opening scenes—plays out multiple times in a series of flashbacks, has Arthur's father Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) defeating the evil mage Mordred during a siege on Camelot. Afterwards, Uther's brother Vortigern (Jude Law) betrays the king by summoning dark magic. He kills the king and queen, but their son escapes in a boat to Londinium, where his life flashes forward in that jumpy montage.

These opening sequences are effective, if only because Ritchie imbues them with a sense of mystery. The scenes play out with few words. It's the imagery that matters, and there are some eerie moments, such as Vortigern's sacrifice to the magical creatures in the water in a cavern beneath Camelot, and some silly ones, such as the way the sword Excalibur chinks and glows blue whenever its rightful owner clutches its hilt. It gives the possessor super-fighting powers that either speed up the swordsman or slow down his opponents, but whatever the case, the result is a blur of incomprehensible action.

What sets these early scenes apart is that they're bold. That quality doesn't last for long, because Excalibur reveals itself at the bottom of the lake near Camelot, leading now-King Vortigern to command every man of Arthur's age in the kingdom to attempt to pull the sword from the stone. Arthur eventually makes his way there (through a series of coincidences that are too convoluted to detail), pulls out the sword, and is rescued from public execution by a group of rebels against the current ruler (There are times this story feels like Robin Hood, not Arthur).

Some of the names—like Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and Percival (Craig McGinlay)—will be familiar to those who know Arthurian tales. The movie also gives us some of the, apparently, lesser-known knights—such as Bill (Aidan Gillen) and Rubio (Freddie Fox)—and a martial-arts master named George (Tom Wu). There's also a female replacement for Merlin (who's apparently off doing better things), played by Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, because—the thinking seems to be—there has to be magic in an Arthur story.

There's nothing special here, and the only unique element is how Ritchie occasionally stops the movie dead for a couple of extended sequences that play as irritating jokes (Arthur tells a long-winded story of shaking down a Viking, and his adventures in a land of giant creatures are juxtaposed with the mage downplaying the danger). The resulting Arthur of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is neither a real man nor a legend, which makes him—and the movie—pretty dull.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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