Directed by Guy Ritchie
Written by Joby Harold and Guy Ritchie & Lionel Wigram
Certain tales have stood the test of time and will be welcome in the storytelling universe for years and years to come. “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, the tale of Jesus, is one of them. So is Robin Hood, the works of William Shakespeare, and of course the tale of King Arthur and his knights of the roundtable in Camelot. It seems just a matter of time before the next adaptation of each hits the big screen at the local movie theater. With King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, director Guy Ritchie is telling us he feels it was time again for Arthurian legend. But Ritchie is not the type of director you would expect to tell such a celebrated tale. His brash style has brought him fanboy fame and fortune, but will his directorial touch really revamp King Arthur for the 21st century?
We all know King Arthur as the great king of Camelot, a fair and good king who collaborated with his noble nights of the roundtable, but do you know his origins!? Well, Ritchie is here to fill us in. After years of peace between man and mage, power thirsty Mordred threatens that peaceful relationship by using his powers to attack Camelot and its King Uther (Eric Bana). Fueled by his nobility and the sword Excalibur, forged for him by the great Mage Merlin, Uther defeats Mordred, but his brother Vortigern (Jude Law), who was aligned with Mordred, attacks his brother, seeking to usurp his power. Uther’s son and heir is left an orphan, floating into Londinium while Vortigern begins to build his power in Camelot. Raised in the rough streets, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam), the true heir to the throne, poses a great threat to Vortigern and his powers.
As with most Guy Ritchie films, you must take the bad with the good with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. The story alone is strong enough, one of the most famous pieces of lore in all of England. Even Ritchie’s origin story take on it makes for an interesting piece of storytelling. But that’s just it. Ritchie is not a very good storyteller. His style is sleek and cool, but those are not often words associated with Middle Ages England. The blending of the styles is cool enough, but Ritchie steps on his own toes far too many times by dialing up the slow motion action and overly modern camera choices, which help bloat the story with unnecessary noise. An eyeroll or two is not out of the question.
The cast seems well fit. Jude Law, while type-cast, is type-cast for a reason: he makes a darn good bad guy and is far too easy to root against. Charlie Hunnam, meanwhile, is a sharp, charismatic lead. Arthur’s humble upbringing helps blend this Arthurian tale with a dash of Robin Hood. It a film that certainly has its moments, often highlighted by the confidence exuded by Hunnam. This is where the good bits of Ritchie begin to shine. Small character elements like a quickfire exchange of dialogue, some smart-ass back and forth, and the crack of a joke once in a while brighten an otherwise bleak tale. Unfortunately these moments are mere interludes to the greater story being told, which suffers from Ritchie’s more annoying attributes.
It’s not just that he is trying to make a cool, modern action movie out of King Arthur, but that he often show no sense of geography within a scene, no attention to detail or character development to carry the gravitas required of such a noble tale of good and evil. By focusing more on being cool than proficiently telling an age old story, Ritchie brings the material down to his level instead of elevating it with his more admirable traits. What results is a little bit of a mess of a movie, overladen by CGI. I believe there’s a good movie in here somewhere, and expect I will be more favorable than the average critic overall on King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, but in the end it just doesn’t work nearly as well as it could have.