Director: Guy Ritchie
Screenplay: Joby Harold, Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Jude Law, Eric Bana
Runtime: 126 Minutes
Guy Ritchie’s upgrade to the major blockbuster circuit of filmmaking has been a little varied, to say the least. His adaptation of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was passably entertaining at points and his reimagined Sherlock Holmes series found a balance between his low-end crime comedies and some new modern visual tricks. But King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is another matter entirely. Reconfigured from an original plan to lay the foundations for an epic 6-part saga focusing on the Knights of the Roundtable, this is yet another Warner Bros. exercise in putting the horse before the cart when it comes to franchise management.
There’s very little about the film that works overall, but the better stuff comes when Ritchie is showing off is auteurist styling’s in lengthy quick cut montages that over-explain the hows and whys of encounters between his Londinium lads on the street. It’s still as silly as it’s ever been but his nifty way of skipping between times and places is usually entertaining, and a near-wordless montage briefly chronicling the passage from boy to man is actually punchy enough to get to the point.
Unfortunately, this peak comes very near the start of the movie (following an incomprehensibly mishandled opening sequence and title montage) and is merely just a setup and diversion from the main plot of the movie; which plays out like a part Moses story, part tedious fantasy story of mages and creatures in medieval Britain that happens to feature a magic sword called Excalibur and a character ostensibly called Arthur (Charlie Hunnam). The pace leaves everything an absolute bore after the first half hour and never livens up, with a third act that just emerges like a boss fight right out of a Dark Souls video game.
Little to none of the film’s overly explained and convoluted lore and back-story make sense as paths cross, made worse by Ritchie’s intellectual contempt for his audience to keep up with essential plot information, and his inability to linger on any given scene without constantly cutting between other scenes to try and enhance the effects – and that’s to say nothing of the actual digital effects which are an appropriately mixed bag when applied to the sickeningly grey and grimy look to everything even in the face of its mystical spectacle. Although, Daniel Pemberton's wheezy and clangy score isn't too bad.
The performances are equally bland and uninterested from most involved, including low rent Ritchie regulars and those who look like they should really be trying harder given their stature in other work (including one gaudily awful cameo that arrives at exactly the wrong moment). Hunnam can be decent when used with more gratifying material but he’s desperately dreary here, while Jude Law underplays the villain in high camp dressings while only occasionally tilting over into pantomime in an effort to make things more entertaining. The characters they’re playing don’t offer much anyway, with dozens of interchangeable side characters with names such as ‘Mike the Spike’ and ‘Mischief John’ as is custom for Ritchie’s view of street-level London.
King Arthur is a terrible movie; an unfocused wreck that throws itself between the sensibilities of its filmmaker as a crime caper comedy and a dull as dishwater fantasy epic. The efforts the film does make to over explain this origin story are dumb at best and insulting at worst. It’s obvious this has been hacked up by the studio in some way to save face, leaving many reveals such as the identity of who’s playing the unseen Merlin an eternal mystery that will never be answered. Though unintentionally funny at points, this quest isn’t worth the journey.