King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Review
Guy Ritchie returns to his old stomping ground, down in back streets of Londonium, swapping the sawn-offs for a spot of sword fighting and the legend of Excalibur. Despite being his own worst enemy at times, it feels a little unfair to continue typecasting Ritchie, even though by once again bringing together a rabble of unlikely lads to succeed against all odds, he reminds us that this is the skin he feels most comfortable in. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword isn't exactly the story you've become accustomed to by now, which ends up becoming the films greatest strength by the end.
Like every Ritchie film, the plot moves forward at a rapid pace, allowing the slightly bloated runtime to zip past fairly quickly. If you are a fan of his signature jump cuts, zooms and snappy dialogue, then you won't be disappointed on that front either. As expected and predictable as these elements are from Ritchie, he executes them well, used effectively to introduce a young Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) as he grows from a streetwise kid into a handy street fighter, all the while believing he was born in a brothel.
In reality, he is the true heir to the throne, in a kingdom now ruled by his tyrannical Uncle, King Vortigen (Jude Law). Arthur's real father, King Uther (Eric Bana), managed to get the boy away from the castle before being overthrown and slain by his evil, power hungry brother. Just in case we're not sure who the good and bad guys are exactly, Vortigen is clad in black from head to toe right from the beginning, while our hero Arthur is clearly established in lighter colours. It's these small details that can make all the difference y’see.
The legend of the sword in the stone is efficiently taken care of early on, helped along no end by David Beckham. Yes that's right, our national treasure pops up as one of Vortigen's foot-soldiers, stumbling through his lines (plural), as if it was his first ever post-match interview. If there is anything to take you out of the moment - particularly in a key segment of a fantasy story trying to establish its world - it's an ill-judged celebrity appearance. Of course, Beckham also briefly featured in Ritchie's last film, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., so you are left to wonder exactly what secret information Beckham holds on file.
The film is far from a car crash and Golden Balls aside, there is nothing that will make you contemplate walking out of the theatre. The middle section of the film works well, as we're not being subjected to giant elephants, snakes, three-headed krakens and video game fight sequences. Neil Maskell is perfectly cast as one of Arthur's dodgy but reliable right hand men, while Jude Law does the best he can with a character that is never quite let off the leash. Hunnam suits the role of a leading man, with a relaxed and likeable performance, and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey is wholly believable as the mysterious Mage.
Above all else, it’s a film that fails to provide a journey beyond the typical hero quest and CGI fantasy tropes. The release date was changed several times, which is never a good sign, resulting in a disastrous opening box office weekend in the US. The final sequence clearly sets up the reported six-film shared universe, although it’s hard to see how Warner Bros. can now justify this sort of expenditure on a second film. While you will certainly see far worse films this year, it appears that a combination of blockbuster fatigue and a weariness of sword and sandal stories will ensure that Arthur fails to become the legend he aspires to be.