Cinematic Releases: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword - Reviewed

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is everything you’d expect in a sword and sorcery epic from Guy Ritchie. From that description, you already know whether or not this movie is for you. Unfortunately, this incarnation of the ages-old tale is everything we’ve come to expect from Warner Brothers’ misguided search for another franchise. As much as this movie feels like a Guy Ritchie picture, it also reeks of compromise and studio notes. While his three most recent outings with the studio were also adapted from established source material, somehow the far superior Sherlock Holmes movies and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. avoided the stigma that seems to hang over every frame of this film.

With that being said, this is still a pretty entertaining and never boring piece of blockbuster moviemaking. Every dollar of the film’s exorbitant budget is felt on screen, and the scope of Ritchie’s vision is admirable, realized through the robust cinematography of John Mathieson. Taking a tale as well known and copiously retold as King Arthur, it’s commendable that Ritchie manages to stick his thumbprint on this as well as he does.

A huge debt of what success the film achieves must be paid to Charlie Hunnam as Arthur. This man is a phenomenal actor and a towering screen presence. He has an organic intensity that easily gives way to a soft comedic side. Combine that with his dedicated physicality, and he's a force to be reckoned with. When will someone finally give him another role worth his talents? Hunnam is commanding and electric every moment that he is on screen. He’s also surrounded by a rogue’s gallery of supporting character actors who are all instantly likable. In particular, Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou, always badass) and Goose Fat Bill (Aidan Gillen from Game of Thrones) steal the show.

Where Ritchie falters is actually in one of his usual strengths. Since he burst on to the scene with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels — and most especially with Snatch — Ritchie expertly populates his world with colorful and memorable ensemble casts. Legend of the Sword has many of those Ritchie-esque moments with the characters that make us smile, but the script by Ritchie and Lionel Wigram is so overpopulated that all but Arthur and his nemesis Vortigern (deliciously evil Jude Law) lack any semblance of depth. It’s evident from the way this story of Arthur and the eponymous Excalibur is told that Warner Brothers smells a marketable series (six films have been planned), and many decisions were made to play this safe.

"This.... is my BOOMSTICK!"

Speaking of playing it safe, that brings us to the movie’s near-fatal flaw. When you think of any classic movie with knights, wizards, magic, and Eric Bana cameos — and especially one directed by the guy who turned Sherlock Holmes into the ultimate Basil Street Badass — you would expect some outstanding sword fights. After all, this is a medieval epic depicting the rise of Arthur and the legend of Excalibur, a magical blade forged by Merlin himself. Was there any reason in the world why every single fight involving the titular sword had to be emasculated by CGI? This reviewer came to see King Arthur fighting off multiple baddies with a majestic sword, not animators masturbating all over Charlie Hunnam’s face while he duels Shao Kahn from Mortal Kombat.

The only person not playing it completely safe here is Daniel Pemberton, the composer Ritchie worked with on his last feature, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Pemberton’s score is something of a marvel in its complexity. At its best moments, one of which accompanies a spectacular foot chase, the music is downright exhilarating in its originality. His use of percussion seems to borrow from the heroic work of Hans Zimmer, but then underneath will be plucking strings punctuated by stomping feet and quick gasping human breaths into the microphone. This is not your standard armor-clad score, and this newest version of King Arthur is all the better for it. If only the rest of the film could live up to its vitality.


- Blake O. Kleiner

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